Carson City School District officials have made it clear they feel something went terribly wrong when the state Department of Education announced Read By Grade 3 program grants for the coming school year.
Carson received more than $1 million last year to support the program designed to teach kids to read by grade three and had asked for $1.19 million for the coming year.
They were awarded just a fraction of that amount, $213,716, this time around.
In a letter to Mike Willden, chief of staff to Gov. Brian Sandoval, Carson Superintendent Richard Stokes complained the award makes no sense since Carson City had the highest point score of any applicant. He said without full funding, “teachers and other carefully trained staff will lose their jobs,” and students will no longer have access to the program.
But State Superintendent Steve Canavero said the problem is under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), competitive grant funding is awarded not on the point score of an application but first on whether the district is using evidence based programs that are actually proven to work.
The second criteria, he said, is need — the number or percentage of students in the district elementary schools who are low income, English language learners or have other learning issues.
Seng-Dao Keo, department Director of Student and School Support, said that means “evidence based programs that are proven to be successful,” are the top priority.
“It’s not only buying things that work but really being deliberate and thoughtful about the implementation of these things,” she said. “They’re funded first on evidence levels, then their need.”
She and Canavero said Carson School District didn’t do anything wrong but they included that things in their proposed Read By Grade 3 program plan that don’t rank in the top tier of that evidence based requirement.
“They didn’t have the most rigorous research studies that show a significant positive impact on student outcomes,” he said. That put the district’s application down the list.
Stokes said the idea of awarding funding to programs that use documented and researched practices, “makes sense to me.
“But it seemed to us there was a disconnect in how our ESSA evidence pieces were scored and how they were seen by the Department of Education.”
Seng said the department would love to fund programs farther down the list including Carson School District’s proposal. The problem, she said, is the department just “ran out of money,” in the competitive grants program.
“We are what you’d call severely oversubscribed for competitive grant dollars,” she said. “It’s common to have $5 or $6 million to hand out and get requests for $12 million.”
All the district received is what Canavero called the “continuation grants” designed to help bridge the transition from the old system to the new evidence based grants program — $213,716. They received zero money in the competitive grants program.
Canavero and Stokes both said they along with Willden and the governor’s office are still working on some form of resolution for Carson.
Stokes said unless there are some reversions or other money found to help Carson out, “it will hit us pretty hard.”
He said that means an impact not only during the school year but in before and after school programs and summer school.
“We’re hoping this is something we can work out,” he said.
“But we don’t expect them to pull money back from anybody,” he said adding the grant money is already “out the door.”