SACRAMENTO – About one in three of the state’s worst-performing schools will get a share of nearly $3 billion in funding dedicated to helping them improve academic achievement. Although around 1,455 schools are eligible for the money, only 500 will receive funding for the seven-year program so the money can be targeted to the neediest schools for a greater impact, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said Monday. “This is not the panacea, but this is a targeted, strategic investment in schools that need the most help,” O’Connell said. The $2.9 billion package is part of a deal between Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state’s largest teachers union, the California Teachers Association, to help settle a lawsuit over money the governor borrowed from schools to balance the 2004-05 budget. Most of the money will be used to hire more teachers to reduce class sizes, a strategy O’Connell said has proven to be one of the best ways to raise academic achievement. But others, including the California School Boards Association, note that while smaller class sizes are popular with parents, most comprehensive education studies have not shown improved student performance based on smaller classes, particularly beyond the third grade. “Class-size reduction, especially in the magnitude here, just is not an effective intervention,” CSBA assistant executive director Rick Pratt said. “The real key is what are the teachers going to do in those smaller classes.” O’Connell pointed to a state program that reduced ninth-grade English classes, in which he said participating schools showed improved test scores over a seven-year period. The state already spends around $1.7 billion a year to keep class sizes small in kindergarten through third grade. According to the Department of Education, the average class size in 2005-06 ranged from 19.2 in second grade to 29.8 in some high school classes. Schools that get a share of the $2.9 billion will have to keep class sizes to no more than 20 students per teacher in kindergarten through third grade and no more than 25 to 27 per teacher in core subjects through the 12th grade. The law authorizing the one-time funds, which the Legislature passed last summer and Schwarzenegger signed, includes a requirement for an independent evaluation of the program at least twice. CTA President Barbara Kerr said the details of the evaluation are still being worked out. Participating schools will be required to meet or exceed the state’s academic performance targets every year. Schools that don’t meet those goals won’t face a loss of funding, O’Connell said. Instead, intervention teams of experts will be sent to those schools for a “collaborative process” to work with the school’s leaders to improve them, he said. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!