The state handed out grants to six school districts today for programs targeted to improve the academic achievement of poor and minority students. Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson made the announcement today at a Des Moines middle school. She says the grants will go to Carroll, Davenport, Des Moines, Sioux City, Waterloo, and West Liberty. They’re for $125,000 each and will go toward helping students boost their academic achievement in core subject areas, improve their average daily attendance. Pederson says they also want to help students complete high school. She says the achievement gap for poor and minority students is one of the central challenges to our education system because it effects all or our goals and hopes for Iowa students. Pederson says the funding is available for districts to use during the 2004-05 school year. She says as part of their applications, they each outlined a specific strategy for eliminating their goals. She says each of the plans included professional development for teachers, as “it’s clear that teacher quality is the single most important factor in improving student achievement.”