Harbor schools consider possible impact of state’s loss of NCLB waiver

As the state struggles to postpone federal mandates in place from the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, Harbor school districts are having to consider the possibility of losing federal Title 1 funds that support low income students.

At stake is about $40 million in federal education funds across the state. The state currently has a waiver allowing it to fall short of the federal requirements and the Associated Press reports a U.S. Department of Education official has said discussions on how to allow the state to keep the waiver will continue between federal and state officials. However, many educators, including Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, find it unlikely that the waiver will be extended.

Locally, losing the waiver could mean cuts in current programs — including additional teachers and para-educators and potentially a need to look to voters to help make up for the loss, according to school officials.

“Certainly, the politics of this topic will impact our neediest kids,” said Hoquiam School District Superintendent Mike Parker. The district currently receives more than $700,000 from Title 1 federal dollars.

Most states are not meeting the goals of the No Child Left Behind Act that President George W. Bush signed into law – that every student be able to pass state tests of reading and math skills by 2014. Even though the act expired in 2007, Congress has been unable to rewrite the law, prompting U.S. Department of Education to grant states waivers to the mandate’s benchmarks, such as deadlines on student assessments. But, last summer, the department placed the state on “high-risk status.” It did not approve of individual districts being allowed to choose which tests would be used for evaluations.

Two bills in the just completed legislative session could have provided some clarity by satisfying federal officials to extend the waiver, but both failed. They would have forced schools to evaluate teachers based on student test scores.

Without the waiver, districts would have to set aside 20 percent of their Title 1 funds for supplemental educational services — defined by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction as tutoring or other supplemental academic enrichment activities beyond the regular school day for students not meeting state standards and students from low-income families, and for students who might request school choice. Schools would also be required to write to parents informing them their school is failing under No Child Left Behind and that the district would cover transportation costs (using the Title 1 funds) if a student was to move to a school that is not failing. Parker says such requirements are confusing, considering only one school in the state can count 100 percent of its students as meeting the goals of the act.

“Where would they go? Not just around Hoquiam, but around the Harbor? There’s some sense that it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Parker said he “can’t count the number of surveys” he has completed regarding this topic over the past month. He was hoping the legislation would make its way out of the Legislature.

“I don’t want to think about it,” he said, as to what the district would do without the dollars from Title 1 funding.

He said the district would have three choices should the money be “taken back” by the Department of Education. One would be to reduce programs, including teachers, classes and support staff. They could also ask the public for assistance in making up for the lost funds — though Parker said this probably isn’t an option.

“We just passed our local levy and honestly we didn’t have that in mind at all,” he said, of putting together the levy proposal.

He said that currently the school has two grant-funded after school programs the district was hoping to expand next year and the redirection of funds would mean they could not. The school also uses support classes in mathematics at the middle school, as well as a Title 1 teacher, and para-support — all of which could be jeopardized if the district were to lose the funds.

At Aberdeen High School, losing 20 percent of Title 1 funds would mean the district would need to set aside about $200,000. Currently, the school uses Title 1 funds to assist with support programs in reading at the elementary school and to support teachers that teach reading, summer school programs, support for preschool early childhood programs — according to district superintendent Dr. Tom Opstad.

Opstad says the redirection of the funds could “reduce (the district’s) staffing some,” but that based on the district’s past history — prior to the waiver a very small amount ($4,000 to $6,000) was spent on supplemental services — it likely will not have a major effect.

Jim Sawin, the district’s Title 1 Director and principal of Central Park Elementary, calls the process for signing up with providers for supplemental programs “fairly cumbersome and frustrating,” and said that in the past few have chosen to use them. The law stipulates that the district cannot assist parents and students in choosing a provider, but choosing can be difficult, aided in part by the fact that none of them exist on the Harbor, he said. During one year, an Olympia-based provider offered to drive to Aberdeen if there were enough participants, but other than that the supplemental programs have existed entirely outside of the district. Sawin said the idea may play out better in a metropolitan setting where places like Sylvan Learning Centers exist, but hardly works in rural areas like the Harbor.

The district is able to take a “calculated risk” because they have enough in their cash reserves to budget accordingly during the summer, believing from past evidence that few students will utilize the supplemental programs, and few (if any) will “choice out” to another school, he said. So, when the district receives the Title 1 funds back in January that have not been used, he said they are then used to aid teachers and students in any needed areas.

Opstad also said the district offers an after sch0ol program that many families take advantage of that helps with homework and extra support in math and reading and is mainly funded by the district’s 21st Century Community Learning Grant from OSPI to address students attending high-povery and low-performing schools.

“Therefore, we can budget assuming we will have the majority of that (Title 1) money available for our own staffing during the year,” he said.

Sam Luvisi: 360-537-3935 or sluvisi@thedailyworld.com and @Dw_Sluvisi on Twitter


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