Hagan plans bill that would encourage failing schools to improve

McClatchy NewspapersFebruary 20, 2013 

— Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., on Wednesday said that she’ll introduce a bill in Congress next week that would reward high-poverty schools that improve their test scores and lower dropout rates.

The bill, called the School Turnaround and Rewards, or STAR, Act, also would provide grants to the poorest-performing 5 percent of schools on the condition that they make major changes to improve.

The turnaround portion of the bill is the same system as the Obama administration’s current School Improvement Grants, which have been funded in large part with $3 billion in economic stimulus funds. Hagan’s legislation would make the grants part of federal law, as part of an overhaul of the elementary and secondary education law, known in its most recent form as No Child Left Behind.

The STAR Act would provide $300 million annually for a school rewards program administered by states, and $600 million annually for the grants to turn around long failing schools. The funding levels would remain in effect for five years.

“It’s needed because we have so many failing schools in our country,” Hagan said.

They include high schools where the graduation rate is less than 60 percent, and elementary and middle schools where fewer than 40 percent of students are proficient in math and reading.

Hagan originally introduced her bill in 2011 in response to complaints that No Child Left Behind was too punitive. It became part of a new version of the education law that died in the Senate.

With Congress too divided to redo No Child Left Behind, the Education Department has offered temporary waivers to states so that they can avoid some of the law’s requirements and sanctions. In exchange, the states have had to create their own plans to improve teaching and close achievement gaps.

North Carolina, 33 other states and the District of Columbia have received the waivers.

“We shouldn’t be operating under a waiver system,” Hagan said in an interview. “We ought to be able to go back and have Democrats and Republicans sit at the table and put together a strong educational reform bill for the United States.”

She said the funding to improve failing schools was a necessary part of a long-term investment in education. The STAR Act also requires successful schools to share their practices with similar schools that are trying to improve.

The bill, like the existing School Improvement Grant program, would provide funds to states for some of their lowest-performing schools if the schools adopt one of four improvement plans: replace the principal and adopt a better instruction program; replace the principal, the instruction program and add new teachers; shift to charter management; or close and send students to better schools.

Email: rschoof@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @reneeschoof

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