A race among school districts for millions in federal Race to the Top grants has begun and Glendale Unified is throwing its hat into the highly competitive ring.
Burbank Unified officials say they, too, may enter the fray — and with good reason. With state education funding perpetually being pinched, the grants can be a windfall, up to $40 million over the course of four years.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity,” said Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan.
The grants will only be awarded to from 15 to 25 winners. Glendale school board members say they believe the grants represent too great an opportunity to pass up, despite the tough competition.
“There are a lot of opportunities that this would bring to our district” Sheehan said, suggesting robotics programs could be implemented across the district.
“The prize is huge,” said Glendale school board member Greg Krikorian. “It’s worth taking a swing at it.”
It marks the first time the U.S. Department of Education has opened the application process to individual districts. Previously, the race was open only to individual states. About $400 million will be split among the recipients.
Eligible districts must serve at least 2,000 students, and at least 40% of their students must be from low-income families.
In Burbank, school officials have not yet decided whether they will apply for a grant.
“Burbank Unified School District is weighing [its] options and will decide soon whether we will apply,” said spokeswoman Kimberley Clark.
The 70-plus-page application must arrive in Washington, D.C. before Oct. 30 with the comments of each city’s mayor included.
Kelly King, director of early education for Glendale Unified, said the program’s intent is to help districts focus on personalized learning, close achievement gaps and supply schools with 21st-century tools, in addition to preparing students for college and their career paths.
“We want to turn in a grant application that represents our vision right now and what we would like to see,” King said at Tuesday’s school board meeting.
School board member Nayiri Nahabedian voiced one concern over how the district would move ahead once the four years of funding expire, assuming Glendale becomes a grant recipient.
King replied that the grant would push the district forward while avoiding becoming reliant on the money.
“You want to look at this four-year plan as working itself into the fabric of what we do in the district without needing additional funds,” King said.
School board President Christine Walters said she saw “very little downside” in applying.
“We look forward to the draft and we look forward to winning,” she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan