Ohio schools responded to the state’s new Straight A Fund with $868 million in requests to support their innovative ideas. But the fund only has $100 million to award in its first year, and State Superintendent Richard A. Ross said he worries that means “really great proposals” won’t get the money they need.
In all, 420 organizations requested seed money for 570 projects through the Straight A Fund, which Gov. John Kasich created to back ideas that will meet students’ needs and reduce schools’ costs. The fund will award $100 million in fiscal year 2014 and $150 million in 2015.
Ross said the high number of applications means competition will be steep. And while he wishes there were more funds available, Ross said he is excited by the number of ideas submitted by schools to solve problems in their own ways.
“Too often, in my personal belief, prescriptions on how to do things come from Washington or Columbus,” he said.
“What I believe is that we know what the results we need are. We need students to achieve at higher levels. We need to reduce remediation rates in college. We need to reduce the achievement gap with students in poverty and minority students. We need to make sure that students can read at a third grade level,” he said.
But the way individual school districts achieve those results is going to be different, he said. “So to try to prescribe a method or process to achieve a result across the state I think is a mistake.”
Schools and colleges in the Dayton area requested millions of dollars to get iPads instead of textbooks into the hands of students, prepare more pupils for Calculus, offer better advising for college and for many other projects.
The Dayton Early College Academy requested $5 million for three projects that would help students locally and around the state.
“We think our ideas are innovative,” said Superintendent Judy Hennessey. “We’re trying to create a college-going community in an urban setting and plan a curriculum that helps parents plan along with us for their children to go to college.”
Each application will go through a screening process that will include input from about 230 fiscal scores who will “help determine if applicant’s ideas are fiscally sustainable,” according to the Ohio Department of Education. The applications will be rated and reviewed, and then voted on by the nine-member governing board, which includes State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering. The final awards, which will be announced Dec. 17, also require approval from the state’s Controlling Board.
Lehner said she was excited to see the response from schools giving thoughtful attention to their applications.
“This wasn’t a question of the schools putting their hands out and saying we need more money,” she said.
Each application required the organization to describe how the project would be financially self-sustaining and how it would be implemented and its results tracked.
No matter the outcome, Ross said the dialogue that has already happened as a result of the new fund has been a good thing.
“It’s allowed people to talk about how do we improve student achievement. It’s allowed folks to talk about sustainability and how do we make schools more efficient and drive dollars into the classroom,” he said.