Mississippi gets $5.6 million from feds to help struggling schools

imagesJACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — Mississippi is getting $5.6 million in federal money to pay for efforts to improve poorly performing schools.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Friday it was awarding more than $38 million. Others getting money include Delaware, Georgia, Nebraska, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Mississippi Department of Education spokeswoman Patrice Guilfoyle says the state expects to be able to give multi-year grants to as many as eight of 33 eligible schools, with competitive applications due in March. No local match is required.

“Essentially, the SIG program is designated for districts with the greatest need and greatest commitment to change,” Guilfoyle wrote in an email. “It’s designed for rapid turnaround of school academic achievement.”

The program has sent $33 million to Mississippi to help improve 10 schools or school districts since 2011. Most recipients have improved significantly, with Sunflower County’s Ruleville Middle School showing perhaps the greatest progress. But some recipients such as West Bolivar Middle School in Rosedale are still struggling.

Under the program, applicants have four options. They can hire a new principal and create a new evaluation system meant to help teachers improve; they can hire a new principal and replace at least 50 percent of staff members; they can hire an outside charter or other school management group to run the school; or they can close the school and send the students to better-performing school.

New applicants would get anywhere from $50,000 to $2 million per school, according to a January presentation to the state Board of Education, with grants renewable for two more years. Grant winners must show progress get money beyond the first year.

Nationwide, federal school improvement grants have gone to more than 1,500 schools.

“These school improvement grants are helping some of the lowest-achieving schools provide a better education for students who need it the most,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement.