Foreseeing little chance of increases in state aid funding for K-12 education, the Bemidji School District's Board of Education is turning to federal funding opportunities.
An informal consensus was made by the school board at a work session Wednesday night to submit an application to the state for federal Race To The Top funding.
The Race to the Top program is part of the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The fund will provide $4.35 billion to 10-15 states through a competitive grant program designed to reward states for making gains in education reform.
If the District decides to apply for the funding, application is due to the Minnesota Department of Education by Jan. 13.
If Minnesota is awarded funds through RTTT, half the money will be designated to local school districts. The funding would be based on a school district's Title 1 formula, and would be distributed over a course of four years.
"Minnesota is well posed to get some of this money because (it) has been so successful with putting many of the components in place already," Superintendent Jim Hess said.
Hess said roughly $1.67 million in new funds would be given to the District, should RTTT dollars be granted to Minnesota. This would equate to roughly $261 per student.
Additionally, $1.2 million would be given to the District in Q Comp funding when approved annually.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, Q Comp was proposed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty and was enacted by the Legislature in July 2005. It is currently a voluntary program that allows local districts and teacher unions to design and bargain a pay scale based on professional accomplishments or achievements.
RTTT funds mandate that Q Comp be used and funded through federal aid and local levy. The District has two years to use RTTT before teachers have to sign an agreement participating in Q Comp. By July 1, 2012, the District has to be a Q Comp District. If no agreement is signed, the District would be kicked out of the RTTT funding, but wouldn't have to pay back any of the money.
"With Q Comp, this would also essentially mean more frequent evaluations for teachers and principals," Hess said.
Hess said many of the components of the RTTT funding are already being mandated, or will be, by the state. Some of the mandates include creating a three-tiered licensing system for teachers, tracking student growth over longer periods of time and having common state assessments.
Hess said one of the positive outcomes of RTTT requirements is that students would be allowed take MCA-II tests up to three times with the highest score being reported to the state for Annual Yearly Progress.
"I've looked around and I don't see any money for education in the state budget," Hess said. "This is real money. It's available. It's paying us to help implement initiatives that the federal government would like us to do."