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Two Years In, Federal Grant Program To Improve Struggling City Schools Has Derailed

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The theory behind school improvement grants was to funnel federal money to the city's worst schools so they could make big changes, but two years into the program, many say the reality is very different. NY1's Education reporter Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

School improvement for three dozen of the city's most struggling schools was meant to happen over three years, but politics and labor battles have derailed the grant program here in the city.

Instead of getting $6 million to implement one of four federally approved plans, schools have been switched from plan to plan. At this point, not a single school is still working on the plan it began in 2010.

During a State Assembly hearing in Downtown Manhattan on Wednesday, there was a lot of finger-pointing: from City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, to State Education Commissioner John King, to union leaders and elected leaders.

"They're not moving forward with the school improvement grants at the pace we would want in part because the city and its bargaining units could not agree," said King.

"I can't predict what the state will or will not do," said Walcott.

"This bill, which came out of this house, as well as the [state] senate and signed by a governor, said that there would be oversight of the mayor. Checks and balances," said Principals union president Ernest Logan.

The School Improvement Grant program requires they all work together. The city and unions have to agree on plans for each school, based on federal parameters and state approval. That has not happened.

"Sometimes we're able to negotiate something that benefits us all and sometimes we don't see eye-to-eye and that's always part of the ongoing relationship between management and labor," said Walcott.

"Then blaming the principals, you blame the teachers, you determine that the problem is entirely about who's in the building, when in fact that may not be the problem at all," said Manhattan Senator Daniel O'Donnell.

"We all have to start talking in a way that we can understand each other," said Queens Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan.

Eleven schools have been dropped from the program, two went from being saved to being shuttered and 26 others are on track to close and then reopen this summer, with half the teachers removed.

As the city and teachers union could not agree on teacher evaluations, one of the requirements for the program, the state has stopped sending the city the money to support it at all. Observers are confused and so are the schools.

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