In brief: Hawaii schools risk losing big grant

WASHINGTON – An Education Department official on Wednesday admonished Hawaii for its “unsatisfactory” performance under a $75 million federal grant the state won last year in a high profile competition and said it was placing it under “high risk” status. That means the state is in danger of losing the money if it doesn’t make improvements.

This is the first time the department has placed under such a status a state that won dollars distributed in the competition known as “Race to the Top.”

The Hawaii Department of Education is the nation’s 10th largest school system and the only statewide district in the country.

The education community has been watching closely to see how aggressively the department will enforce the terms of the competition.

Hawaii still has about $72 million of its four-year, $75 million grant left to spend. The state has been well over a year behind in implementing many aspects of its plan to improve low-performing schools, and has struggled to roll out a teacher evaluation system tied to teacher performance that it promised.

“The department is concerned about the state’s ability to fulfill its commitments within the grant period,” Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie was told in a letter dated Wednesday and signed by Education Department official Ann Whalen.

Because the state is now a high-risk grantee, it will be required to get pre-approval before funds are spent and will be subjected to a thorough on-site review, the letter said.

Missing student found snowbound

PHOENIX – An Arizona State University student packed a water bottle with snow and let it melt under the sun for drinking water while she was stranded for more than a week, authorities said Wednesday after the 23-year-old was discovered in a remote area of east-central Arizona.

Lauren Weinberg was last seen leaving her mother’s home in south Phoenix on Dec. 11 and told authorities she became stuck in the snow a day later, Coconino County sheriff’s spokesman Gerry Blair said. Two U.S. Forest Service employees on snowmobiles found her Wednesday about 45 miles southeast of Winslow.

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