Nearly $42M in federal funding delivered to more than 500 Louisiana schools

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AP Photo/ Thibault Camus

BATON ROUGE – On Tuesday, a committee of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) approved $41.9 million in allocations to improve over 500 struggling schools across the state.

The competitive allocations, which are expected to receive final approval by the full board at its Wednesday meeting, will support these schools as they implement their state-approved, evidence-based strategies for improvement during the 2020-2021 school year.

School systems’ improvement plans were submitted and reviewed earlier in the school year, before the COVID-19 outbreak shuttered school facilities for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

The plans for improvement remain the same, though school systems have been asked to expand academic and operational plans to ensure students can access high-quality learning regardless of setting or future disruptions.

“Long before COVID-19 closed school facilities to students, school systems were planning for the 2020-2021 school year. The evidence-based plans for improvement they submitted in February remain crucial,” said Acting State Superintendent Beth Scioneaux. “Today’s action shows our schools remain committed to improving and ensuring every child, every day, has access to high quality learning. Louisiana believes in its school improvement strategy, and we are moving forward with it, despite the obstacles we face.”

Louisiana’s Process for Improving Struggling Schools as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Louisiana annually identifies struggling schools, awards additional dollars to school systems that have strong evidence-based plans for improvement, and supports the implementation of those plans.

Louisiana identifies and labels struggling schools in three ways:

  • Comprehensive Intervention Required: consistently low overall performance and/or graduation rates;
  • Urgent Intervention Required – Academics: consistently low performance among certain groups of students; and
  • Urgent Intervention Required – Discipline: chronic issues with student behavior.

Schools that meet these criteria are required to identify strategies for improvement as part of the state’s annual school system planning process. The Louisiana Department of Education reviews the improvement strategies submitted by school systems, and ultimately approves them if they meet the state’s criteria.

Over time, the Department supports the implementation of each approved plan and monitors its progress.

In 2019, 537 schools were identified as academically struggling and 33 were identified for discipline. Of those, 270 schools were identified as in need of comprehensive improvement; 467 schools were identified as in need of urgent intervention due to challenges with specific groups of students; and 164 were identified as in need of urgent intervention due to higher than average discipline rates. Schools can have multiple labels.

Among the highlights of the plans for 2020-2021, approved plans:

  • Boost science instruction – More than 100 school systems received a total of $10.9 million in competitive funding to adopt and implement high-quality science curriculum, as well as provide professional development to educators, including science content leaders, on how to use the lessons and tools in their classrooms
  • Provide specialized support to students with disabilities – Seventy school systems received a total of $800,000 in competitive funding to provide educators with training on specialized supports for students with disabilities
  • Support the expansion of high-quality early childhood care and education – Nearly 40 lead agencies, which act as liaisons between the state education department and their local networks of early childhood education providers, will receive a total of $3.6 million in competitive funding to adopt and implement high-quality curriculum, as well train educators on how to properly use it in their classrooms; and
  • Increase school-based capacity by growing local Content Leader, Intervention Content Leader, and Mentor Teacher cadres – Content Leaders provide content- and curriculum-specific professional development to new and current teachers in their school system. Intervention Content Leaders collaborate with all teachers to support core instruction for students who need additional support. Mentor Teachers coach and support new teachers and aspiring teachers who are completing their yearlong, classroom-based residencies. All roles are an important step in the leadership pipeline for talented local educators and require specialized training.

A BESE committee also approved new entities to provide this training. The Department will support school systems and schools with implementation of their plans starting at the 2020 Teacher Leader Summit: The Virtual Series where various sessions will be closely aligned to the key strategies outlined in the approved plans. The Summit will take place May 28 through June 5. To date, more than 6,000 educators have registered to attend.

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