SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Rural Kentucky schools will share in the benefits of a best-in-the-nation $41 million federal Race to the Top grant, with the money spread among 22 districts in an effort to raise student achievement from kindergarten to high school, state officials said Monday.
The consortium of local districts snared the largest award in the national competition for the district-level grants from the U.S. Department of Education, Gov. Steve Beshear said at an event at Simpsonville Elementary in Shelby County, where officials outlined how the money will be used.
"This $41 million ... gives Kentucky an opportunity to be an incubator of innovation that will make a dramatic difference in the lives of our children," Beshear said. "It will enable us to drive reform at the local level, by developing plans to personalize and deepen student learning."
The goal is to close achievement gaps and better prepare the youngest and oldest students for their next challenges, whether it's kindergarten, first grade or college, he said.
The grant received by the Kentucky districts is unique because it's being funneled to rural schools, education officials said.
Districts receiving the assistance serve about 60,000 students. More than half live in rural areas with entrenched pockets of poverty, and about one-third are at demonstrated risk of academic failure, officials said.
The winning grant was a collaborative effort by two regional organizations — the Green River Regional Educational Cooperative and the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative.
Districts in line for the assistance are: Adair County, Campbellsville Independent, Caverna Independent, Cloverport Independent, Daviess County, Green County, Hart County, Logan County, Metcalfe County, Monroe County, Owensboro Independent, Russell County, Simpson County, Taylor County, Union County, West Point Independent, Carroll County, Henry County, Owen County, Shelby County, Spencer County and Trimble County.
Grant money will be used to hire mentors to work with home-based child-care providers, Head Start, churches and daycare operators to improve literacy skills among Kentucky's youngest students. Kindergarten-readiness screenings given to nearly 31,500 Kentucky youngsters in 2012 showed only one in four were ready for school, Beshear said.
"Every child, no matter where he or she is born, deserves a good start in life, deserves a chance to be successful," the governor said. "And we've got to do a better job in Kentucky of getting our kids off to that good start in life."
The grant also will bolster college and career readiness counseling to help steer students toward the next phase of their lives beyond high school, he said.
Participating schools also are working with an initiative known as the "Leader in Me" program that stresses individual responsibility, goal setting and team work among students. Hart County Superintendent Ricky Line said the program is a "game changer."
"It's how we will move our students from the 'what's-in-it-for-me' culture to living by principles and learning to lead themselves to be productive members of society," he said.
State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday said he hopes the district-level initiatives lead to statewide programs to improve student performance. By next year, he said, he hopes to hold up the results to other schools around the state by saying, "'Look at what these guys are doing.'"