Metro Nashville Public Schools may have lost out on millions of dollars after a scuffle with the state over a particular charter school, but federal education officials may help the district more than make up for it.
MNPS is one of 61 finalists seeking a portion of $400 million in a district-focused Race to the Top contest to award districts leading the country in innovation to drive student performance.
“We have a terrific application,” said Jesse Register, director of schools. “It is a huge next step for us in this district.”
MNPS is the only district in the state to land in the final round. Federal education officials are expected to narrow down the remaining applicants to the top 15 to 25 by the end of the year.
Winners will take home $5 million to $40 million over four years for their district to use on local plans to personalize student learning, improve student achievement and teacher effectiveness, close achievement gaps, and ensure students are college- and career-ready.
MNPS asked for the maximum amount in its application, money that would be used largely on personnel to help develop specialized instruction, district officials say.
News about making the first cut comes after the district went to blows with the Tennessee Department of Education over ignoring a state order to approve Great Hearts Academies’ charter for a school to open its doors in the affluent West End area. While the school board contends it was working in the best interest of the district and watching out for diversity concerns, the state fined MNPS $3.4 million.
Changing laws to allow more charter schools was one of several pillars the state erected in 2010 to help win the federal government’s initial Race to the Top grant, an award that totalled more than $500 million statewide over four years.
“Remember, Great Hearts was just one school,” Register said. “Charter schools are part of the networks that we’re developing. They are a part of the grant that we’ve written, which probably makes us pretty unique in including our charter schools as part of our Race to the Top initiative.”
State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who fought with the district over the controversial charter denial, applauded MNPS for making it to the final round of the federal competition.
“We are excited to have a Tennessee district among the finalists for the Race to the Top-District grant,” Huffman said. “Metro Nashville is a strong contender to win this national award, and we wish them luck in the last stages of the competition.”
The contest drew 372 applications representing 1,189 school districts across the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.