COLUMBUS, Ohio – Seven Greater Cincinnati school districts, including Cincinnati Public Schools, grabbed a share of the $150 million in Straight A Fund grants that were recommended Friday by the fund's governing board.
Hamilton County Educational Service Center , which coordinates educational services for local schools, was a big winner, teaming up with four school districts to land a $7.7 million grant designed to reduce drop-out rates through a tech-heavy program "that will make students feel competent by showing them the link between what they are learning and how they will use those skills in the future," according to the proposal. The districts are Deer Park Norwood, Reading and Finneytown.
Cincinnati Public Schools won another $985,000 to train 150 teachers to become literacy specialists helping young students struggling to read.
Butler County ESC led a group that was awarded $718,000 to develop a program to build a countywide educational technology program. That group included Talawanda City, Madison Local and Monroe Local districts.
Finneytown Local Schools won $625,000 to develop an instructional toolkit that outlines exactly what a student needs to know to demonstrate proficiency in every one of the Ohio New Learning Standards.
Ross Local Schools won a $950,000 grant in cooperation with University of Cincinnati to give middle and high school students and teachers Chromebooks and other high-tech gear to tailor learning to students' identified needs with the intention of allowing all students to meet or exceed grade-level standards and become college- and career-ready.
The seven-member board, a cross-section of legislators, business leaders and educators voted after poring through application requests totaling $761 million from 662 organizations. The board's recommendations must be approved by the controlling board, which passed all of the governing board's recommendations last year and is expected to do so again when it meets on July 28.
The Straight A board evaluated all the proposals on an anonymous basis, with names and identifying details redacted. The big reveal came late Friday afternoon when a staff member distributed hard copies of the winners.
David Distel, superintendent of Hamilton County ESC, said the timing of the Straight A Fund's inception last year was excellent for his consortium because it had formed about two years ago with the intent to pool resources to land big grants.
"When Straight A showed up, we thought, wow, this is a good place to go," Distel said.
CPS already has literacy specialists in each elementary school who work with small groups of children struggling to read at grade level. The $1 million grant that the district won will expand that effort.
"The grant will position us to be that much stronger in our teaching core to provide our students with the skilled training they need to become very good readers," said Janet Walsh, CPS spokesperson.
Gov. Kasich and the legislature created the Straight A Fund to distribute $250 million during the current two-year state budget cycle -- $100 million last year, and $150 million this year created the Straight A Fund. How much, if any, money will be budgeted for the next biennium will be hashed out by lawmakers during budget negotiations.
Alex Fischer, chair of the governing board and president and CEO of the Columbus Partnership, said this year's process was better than last year's thanks to more time allotted and by proposals' return on investment being analyzed.
"I think we all felt a lot more comfortable with the timeline this year," he said, adding, "We're continuing to see more collaboration among schools and school districts."
Cincinnati's representative on the board is Kristina Phillips-Schwartz, director of education initiatives at the Cincinnati Business Committee. She said this year's process was helped along by the added cost-savings ratio, which calculated how much money would be saved by a proposal versus the costs associated with it.
Richard Ross, Ohio's superintendent of public instruction, said he is a huge advocate of the Straight A Fund and that it has fostered important innovations and cost savings in schools throughout the state.
"I see really positive things coming from the Straight A Fund, a lot of flexibility for local school districts," he said. "I think it's powerful."
In an earlier version of this story, the Hamilton County ESC grant was described incorrectly due to an error on the part of the Ohio Department of Education.