Fulton County hopes to get $40 million in federal Race-to-Top school funds

Fulton County’s school system is one of four Georgia districts named finalists for a U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top grant. Winning could bring $40 million to the district that two years ago rejected participation in the state’s Race to The Top bid for federal dollars.

But those federal dollars were different, said Fulton officials. They came with regulations attached and “too many unknowns,” said Fulton school board chairman Linda Schultz, who praised the district for being a finalist now in a field that started with 372 applicants from across the nation.

“We’re extremely excited,” said Schultz. “This validates some of the work we are doing.”

Haralson County’s school system, Morgan County Charter School System, and Rockdale County Public Schools are the other Georgia districts that have applied for the federal funds. The U.S. Department of Education expects to select 15-25 winners for four-year awards that will range from $5 million to $40 million, depending on districts’ student populations. The winners will be announced Dec. 31.

Fulton superintendent Robert Avossa said the district submitted a 150-page application that “captured everything in our five-year strategic plan. We’ve said what we’re doing, and we’re waiting for them to say we will fund this work or we won’t fund this work.”

When Georgia received a Race to the Top grant in 2010 worth $400 million over four years, DeKalb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Cherokee counties and the city of Atlanta participated in it. Fulton, Cobb and Forsyth counties declined, citing loss of local control.

If Fulton gets a $40 million grant, about half the money will be in “performance management, developing a system in support of teachers,” said Avossa. That would include access to technology, such as video clips to use in teaching, and establishing specialization tracks for career advancement.

The district has asked for $3.6 million to reduce the dropout rate. Its plan includes a school-based mentoring program, more school counselors, social workers and graduation coaches.

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