Wednesday, August 11, 2010

MANY SCHOOLS ON CONTROVERSIAL REFORM LIST MAY NOT GET A DIME OF $416 MILLION: “LA … didn't include enough struggling schools in its funding application. LAUSD officials retorted they were never told of such a requirement”

Corey G. Johnson in California WatchBlog - A Project of the Center for Investigative Reporting

Flickr photo by wired_gr

August 11, 2010 | If federal officials don't waive key rules, several of the state's largest school districts are at risk of not getting one penny of a nearly $416 million grant to turn around struggling campuses.

According to an Aug. 10 letter sent to the U.S. Department of Education, state officials are asking federal authorities to reconsider the rule requiring California to put 25 percent of its $415,844,376 away for next year – which equates to roughly $100 million.

The request comes as state officials take heat over the decision to only fund reforms at 95 of the 188 schools on the controversial "persistently under-performing" list. As first reported by blogger John Fensterwald, districts whose funding applications got rejected for a slice of the federal School Improvement Grant (SIG) included Los Angeles Unified, Oakland Unified, Sacramento City Unified and Compton – all areas with sizable communities in need of aid. This news means that with the first day of school merely days away, districts who sought to improve by firing staff, revamping curriculum and taking on longer school days could end up with no money to see those reforms through.

According to the letter from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell and state board president Ted Mitchell:

California had 188 Tier I and Tier II schools identified as persistently lowest-achieving. As indicated in the tables above, we did not receive applications for all of those schools, and only 95 of the 188 Tier I and Tier II schools have approvable applications. Nevertheless, 75 percent of the SIG grant will not fund all approvable Tier I and Tier II schools. The additional 25 percent is needed to provide maximum funding for this year’s cohort of persistently lowest-achieving schools.

The requested waiver will increase the quality of instruction for more students and improve the academic achievement of students in a greater number of schools identified as Tier I and Tier II by enabling more schools and (local educational agencies) to benefit from the SIG program this year in implementing one of the four intervention models established by your agency.

In particular, LAUSD, the nation's second largest school district, was extremely unhappy with its snub. State officials, according to Fensterwald, said LA lost out because it didn't include enough struggling schools in its funding application. They had 30 schools on the state list but only requested funding for 13 campuses. LAUSD officials retorted they were never told of such a requirement.

Finger pointing aside, the bottom line is this: If federal authorities don't now agree to waive the requirements and free up more money, there may be little more that can be done – which ultimately means some of the biggest districts in the state would also be the biggest funding losers.

For several local school leaders, such an outcome would be bitterly ironic. When the state attached tough reforms to vie for the funds, reforms that included firing all the staff and principal; turning the school into a charter; or simply shutting the campus down – many on the local level thought such moves were so unfair and distasteful, they would take a pass.

Yet, the turmoil and despair triggered by the ongoing budget crisis, forced a change of heart. If this ultimately fails, what will this mean for the push for reform? And just how does all of this improve the lives of the children in these so-called struggling schools?

CDE's August Letter to USDOE

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