Obama Wants 5,000 Failing Schools Closed

President-elect Barack Obama, center, accompanied by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, right, introduces Arne Duncan as his Education Secretary-designate, Dec. 16, 2008, at the Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago. (AP Photo) AP Photo

President Barack Obama wants to see 5,000 failing schools close and reopen with new principals and teachers over the next five years.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says kids have only one shot at a good education. He said Monday that chronically underperforming schools need a new start.

Mr. Obama doesn't have authority to close schools himself. That power rests with local school districts and states.

Duncan said the idea is to be "more targeted and more strategic."

"We really want to put a laser-like focus on those schools that have historically under-performed," Duncan said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The administration's goal is for the lowest-performing 1,000 schools - about 1 percent of schools nationwide - to close and reopen each year for the next five years.

But the president will have unprecedented money to offer schools from a federal school-turnaround fund. And states have an incentive to act in the federal economic stimulus law, because they must help failing schools improve to be eligible for the dollars.

Combined with the budget plan released last week, Mr. Obama could have as much as $5 billion to facilitate school turnarounds, which could translate to $1 million for every school that is closed and reopened.

The federal school turnaround program gets about $500 million a year, and the stimulus legislation boosted funding to $3.5 billion. Mr. Obama's budget would add another $1.5 billion by shifting dollars away from traditional formula programs.

The plan for failing schools is part of an effort to fundamentally change perceptions about what works in education.

The president has already channeled an unprecedented amount into the traditional formula-driven infrastructure that funds elementary, middle and high schools in his economic stimulus law.

But Mr. Obama also plans big boosts for newer and, some argue, untested ideas, plowing more money into school-turnaround programs as well as merit pay for teachers.

"Here's a chance to do something dramatically different," Duncan told the AP. "I don't want to lose that opportunity."
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