A rural Arkansas school district and an organization that supports rural school systems and charter schools throughout the state are recipients of 2023 federal grants to help eliminate teacher shortages and improve student achievement in the nation's schools.
The Cross County School District that is north of Wynne, and the Arkansas Public School Resource Center, based in Little Rock, are among 29 organizations nationally to be selected for funding of Teacher and School Leader Incentive Projects.
The Cross County system is slated to receive $747,426. The Arkansas Public School Resource Center is to receive $5,756,874 out of the nearly $115 million national distribution.
The grants are intended "to develop, implement, improve, or expand comprehensive performance-based compensation systems or human capital management systems for teachers, principals or other school leaders," according to the federal government description of the Teacher and School Leaders Incentive Program.
The purpose of the new compensation and management systems -- which will provide educators with opportunities for career advancement, leadership and pay increases -- is to improve student achievement and close the achievement gap between high and low-performing students. Another goal is to use recruitment and retention strategies to maintain a diverse and highly qualified faculty.
The Arkansas Public School Resource Center has partnered with Crowley's Ridge Education Service Cooperative in Harrisburg to attain the federal grant. The partners in 2021 formed the Promoting Educator Effectiveness in Rural Arkansas, or the PEER network, to manage the multi-year grant program..
In all, the PEER network works with 20 school districts, 60 schools and more than 22,239 teachers and 118 teacher leaders in the state -- many of which serve large populations of high-need students. The latest grant funds will enable more schools to be served.
Rachel Horn is the director of the PEER network.
In announcing the grants, U.S. Secretary Miguel Cardona highlighted the grant program's intent to produce a diverse teacher workforce.
"While all students benefit from diverse teachers, when students of color see their backgrounds and experiences reflected in their teachers, we see higher levels of academic achievement and student engagement in school, and more students aspiring to be teachers themselves one day," Cardona said.
"That's why attracting, retaining, and supporting a diverse educator workforce is a top priority in our efforts to raise the bar for learning conditions in our schools," he said.