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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Federal Funding Flow to Philadelphia Schools

Philadelphia Inquirer

The School District of Philadelphia was celebrating a windfall in federal funding this week.

The Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it had awarded the district $25 million to reduce violence and improve educational outcomes at four neighborhood high schools on the state's list of "persistently dangerous" schools, based on the number of violent incidents and assaults reported over several years.

And U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Bob Casey announced that the Treasury Department and Department of Education had awarded the district $145.4 million in construction bonds that will help it obtain low-cost financing to upgrade and repair facilities.

"The Philadelphia School District has 320 buildings, and the average age is 63 years," said Michael J. Masch, the district's chief business officer. "We have a backlog of deferred maintenance of several billion dollars, and anything our partners can do to lower the cost of borrowing to make the repairs is welcome."

The Labor Department grants are going to Fels, Olney West, Frankford, and Edison High Schools. Each will receive $6.27 million for a range of projects including adult volunteer mentors, anti-bullying efforts, peer mediation, and alternative learning strategies.

The schools will work with the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

"While 'persistently dangerous' is not, on its face, a positive distinction, it merits significant funding for these four high schools so that they get the resources they need to bend the curve on high dropout rates and low academic achievement," Specter said.

The district also submitted applications for three other eligible high schools - South Philadelphia, Martin Luther King, and Strawberry Mansion - but the Labor Department did not select them, said Courtney Collins-Shapiro, the district administrator who oversaw the applications.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to designate schools that are "persistently dangerous" and to allow parents to transfer their children to other schools. All 25 schools on Pennsylvania's list are in Philadelphia.

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