There will once again be big money available to struggling Maine schools that are willing to make big changes.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Thursday that Maine will receive $1.7 million in School Improvement Grant money. Since 2009-10, Maine has received more than $17 million from the program, which it has distributed in awards to 11 schools that applied for a share.

Although the pot of money is generous, few schools are eligible and even fewer apply. This year, 14 schools could qualify based on their students’ proficiency and progress on standardized tests.

Maine Department of Education spokeswoman Samantha Warren said it’s likely that only a few of those schools will apply, and based on the typical budget for an improvement plan, the state could fund one or two.

Schools must craft their improvement plans around one of four models, all of them onerous. The most common model in Maine includes replacing the principal, evaluating staff based on student outcomes and adding instructional time to the school day or year.

“Even developing that level of specificity to apply requires a lot of thought and a lot of reflection and a lot of understanding of where your school’s challenges are and what strategies might be effective in turning things around,” Warren said.

The application deadline is May 16, and the Department of Education would award grants in June. The grants last three years.

Last year, 11 schools were eligible, and only two applied. Lewiston’s Montello Elementary School received the entire $1.8 million in available funds.

Schools that have received School Improvement Grants have invested the money in some similar areas, Warren said. They may hire math or literacy coaches, who help teachers improve their methods, or counselors who can help students with nonacademic problems, like mental health. Some schools purchase new curriculum materials or technology. And they often pay for training sessions and substitutes to cover for teachers who are in those sessions.

One of the early grant winners was North Anson’s Carrabec High School, which received $726,800 starting in 2010.

The school added more than a dozen honors and advanced placement classes, started tutoring services, reworked the curriculum to incorporate math and reading into all classes and launched Advancement Via Individual Determination, a program that teaches study and organization skills to smart but underperforming students.

Carrabec’s graduation rate, which was 75 percent in 2008-09, was 93 percent last year. Standardized test scores are also up, though still lower than state averages.

Five schools that have received School Improvement Grants, four of them more recently than Carrabec, still score low enough on standardized tests that they would be eligible for the program if they were not part of it already.

“School improvement is a journey, and often it’s the culture and the aspirations that are the first to change, and then the achievement follows,” Warren said. “And sometimes that can take many years.”

Among the schools eligible to apply this year are Hartland Consolidated School and Harmony Elementary School, both in Somerset County.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected] Twitter: @s_e_mcmillan