FUSD teams with others for fed funds

Fresno Unified School District will go after federal Race to the Top funding -- along with two more of the state's largest school districts -- after California failed to secure the education reform dollars earlier this year.

Fresno, Long Beach and Los Angeles unified school districts will apply for the second round of funding, and could possibly qualify for up to $700 million in stimulus money. Their application is part of a new strategy to bring some of the competitive grant funds into the state.

California, like most other states, was not selected for the first round of funding -- a pot of about $4.35 billion. Only two were selected: Delaware and Tennessee.

The state was about to give up when federal officials encouraged leaders to try again.

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson wouldn't provide much detail at Wednesday's board of trustees meeting on how the district was brought into the mix, but said the state was looking at different ways to compete for the funding.

He also said it's still early in the process and details are being fleshed out: "We had our first conference call today." Hanson said he will attend a meeting in Los Angeles on Friday with superintendents from Los Angeles and Long Beach, as well as state education officials, to discuss how to proceed. He said other districts might also participate in the application.

California's plan relies on putting forward the three districts as a model and laboratory for reform, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Fresno and Long Beach have already been working together. Two years ago, they formed a partnership to share information and teaching methods to figure out which programs work -- and which don't -- to close the achievement gap for minorities.

According to the Times, the districts and state will work with a consulting firm that earned high marks for helping other states with their applications, and foundations have offered to help cover the firm's costs. Hanson said he did not know which foundations were involved.

The process will have to move quickly because the deadline is about five or six weeks away, Hanson said. "I feel very good about what we are doing at Fresno Unified," he said.

Fresno school trustee Carol Mills said it makes sense to go after the funds. "The way I look at it, in this budget situation, I'm willing to keep our options open. It's the potential for more money in the district."

Teachers unions nationwide, including California, have been opposed to the federal reforms because they emphasize linking teacher evaluations with student test scores.

But Greg Gadams, president of the Fresno Teachers Association, said the reforms are already being implemented in California after the state adopted new standards for underachieving schools in order to apply for the first round of funding. He said it would be foolish now not to seek the grants.

Gadams said the union is attempting to work collaboratively with the district to improve underperforming schools, but he stopped short of saying the union would endorse the district's grant application.

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