WASHINGTON - The U.S. Education Department has awarded $120 million directly to five school groups, including a group in South Carolina, to help them train teachers and give students better opportunities, Secretary Arne Duncan said Tuesday.

More than 200 school districts applied for the Race to the Top money, part of President Barack Obama's economic stimulus package from 2009. This is the second year the department has given funds directly to local schools.

"These winners serve as an example to the rest of the country for how to develop innovative plans to drive education reform and improve student achievement," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a statement. "These diverse, trailblazing districts have a clear vision and track record of success for models of personalized learning that aim for every child to graduate from high school ready for college and careers."

A consortium of four rural districts led by South Carolina's Clarendon County School District 2 will receive almost $25 million.

Houston Independent School District and a consortium of 18 districts clustered under the banner of the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative received just shy of $30 million each. Arkansas' Springdale School District will collect $25.9 million and Mississippi's Clarksdale Municipal School District was awarded $10 million.

The grants are to be spread over four years and were based on the schools' plan to improve teachers' effectiveness, prepare students for life after high school and turn around specific challenges in their districts, such as high absenteeism or low graduation rates. The grants also set aside money to improve schools' technologies.


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