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Long Island

New 'Race to the Top' funds to help poorer schools

File photo of an empty classroom. Long Island

File photo of an empty classroom. Long Island officials are reacting to New York's big win -- a nearly $700 million federal education grant. (May 4, 2009) Credit: MCT File

Most Long Island schools can't expect much money from the state's newly won "Race to the Top" pot - not even enough, in many cases, to hire a single new teacher.

Still, the statewide impact could be electrifying. President Barack Obama's administration announced in Washington Tuesday that New York State had won $696.6 million for reform efforts, including upgraded academic standards and student assessments, teacher training and improvement of failing schools.

Even on the Island, local educators said, the indirect impact of the new federal money could be far-reaching. Moreover, a handful of Island districts with high poverty rates stand to gain substantial new federal cash.

"We could be looking at a gross total of $50,000, so this is by no means a windfall for Jericho," said Henry Grishman, superintendent of that school system, which is one of the Island's most affluent. "But look, any mechanism that brings that much money into the schools of New York is a good thing for the state and for education in general."

Forty districts could receive less than $40,000 apiece. Freeport, on the other hand, could receive more than $592,000; William Floyd, more than $801,0000, and Brentwood more than $1.3 million.

"I'm really excited that New York made it to the top this time," said Kishore Kuncham, the Freeport schools chief, referring to the state's failure to win money in March in the first round of applications.

Under Washington's rules, money will be distributed to local schools according to its longtime "Title I" formula - with the bulk going to districts with the highest rates of student poverty.

"One of the principal goals of the federal government . . . is to turn around low-performing schools," said Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), a member of the House education committee. "And there's a fairly high correlation between Title I schools and low-performing schools."

Washington also requires that at least half the money goes directly to schools, while the rest can be used to help states provide supervision and support. However, New York State said it will pass along 68 percent of the money to local districts and charter schools.

"We're giving a little bit more . . . to the districts because we feel simply giving 50 percent wouldn't enable the districts as a whole to carry out the very ambitious reforms," said state Education Commissioner David M. Steiner.

Based on this planned distribution, Newsday calculates the Island as a region stands to receive about $15.5 million, representing about 3.25 percent of the total set aside for local schools across the state. New York City, the biggest recipient, would gain about $326.6 million, or 68.58 percent of the share.

Merryl Tisch of Manhattan, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, said the city is home to about 40 percent of the state's teachers and two-thirds of its underachieving students.

Albany has promised reforms that could alter the shape of education on the Island, and statewide. Among the planned changes: annual evaluations of teachers and principals based on student progress, together with management shake-ups in schools that fail to meet academic standards.

Local educators just hope the price of reform is commensurate with the rewards.

"Hopefully, we're not making $2 million worth of changes for $500,000 worth of benefits," said Paul Casciano, superintendent in the William Floyd district.

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