New ed chief seeks $25M for low-performing districts

Calling it “one of our highest priorities,” recently-appointed Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor is asking the Malloy Administration for $25 million to help him turn around the state’s lowest-performing districts.

“We hope to yield some dollars for this request,” Pryor told the State Board of Education before they unanimously signed off on the proposal.

taylor and pryor

Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor (r) with state BOE chairman Allan Taylor: ‘This will optimize performance of those schools’

If additional money is not an option, Pryor also is asking the administration to redirect funds already appropriated for construction and other infrastructure costs to the low-achieving schools. Pryor said he is still finalizing the specifics of the proposal, but he knows he wants to use the money to help overhaul technology, repair aged buildings or restructure low-performing schools — initiatives Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget director Ben Barnes said he supports.

“The academic problems are certainly compounded by poor facilities,” Barnes said. “I am going to try and find this money for him. I am optimistic.”

An infusion of money to improve low-performing schools could also help with the state’s application for a waiver of No Child Left Behind requirements from the U.S. Department of Education. Applicants for waivers are required to have a plan to turn around schools whose performance is in the bottom 15 percent if they hope to avoid the requirement that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

“This will optimize performance of those schools,” Pryor said, noting this is just one of many strategies he plans to pursue. “A school would presumably have to apply for such a fund, and in the course of applying would have to demonstrate that the intended capital improvement would lead to improved student achievement.”