Money Slated for Needy Schools to Pay for Tutoring, Busing Under No Child Law
The Palm Beach County School District will set aside $11 million next school year to deal with students at schools who failed to meet the No Child Left Behind requirements — money meant to help schools with many poor students pay for teachers, books and other classroom materials.
That's about a third of the $30 million the district gets in federal money to improve schools where at least half the children are so poor they qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
The money will pay to bus children who want to switch schools and to tutor others — a requirement for schools that aren't progressing for two or three years in a row.
That $11 million is "money that's taken off of the top," said Kay Scott, who oversees No Child Left Behind for the school system. "It's money that the schools could use to pay their own incentives to get highly qualified teachers, tutorial services, parental involvement activities, additional classroom supplies, more computers — anything extra."
For the fall, on top of the 2,400 children who are interested in transfers, 3,600 parents want their children to get tutoring at school, which also would be on the district's dime.
About $6 million is dedicated for busing children or tutoring. The other
$5 million is for training teachers in subjects that local children struggled with, particularly reading; luring teachers to work at schools where a majority of students are poor; and trying to involve parents in their children's schools.
If there's money left over once busing and tutoring have been paid for, it could go back to the schools for which it was intended, Scott said.
Requests to move disappoint
The number of children who said they want a transfer is only a fraction of the 60,000 students eligible, but it's about three times as many who moved this year. Busing those students cost the district about $1 million this year.
The choices of changing schools or tutoring are available only for poor students with low test scores, and the numbers could change once schools learn in June whether they have made adequate progress this year. Some of the students may not be eligible for transfers or tutoring after all.
The Palm Beach County School District offered only one school as the choice for children who want to transfer. For example, children who want to leave Gove Elementary can go to Acreage Pines. If Acreage Pines doesn't have enough room, then the district will rank students who want to go there by poverty and FCAT scores. The poorest students with the worst scores get to go. That means some students won't get to go to another school, although the district isn't really allowed to limit choices because some schools would become crowded. And while the district can limit offering choice or tutoring to poor students, all of them are supposed to get the chance to switch, not just the worst test-takers.
Under the No Child law, schools have to ensure all groups of students are learning, which is measured by passing the reading and math FCAT. If just one of these groups isn't progressing, the school is labeled as not making adequate progress. Schools that fail two years in a row must offer poor students the chance to transfer to another school — even if that school isn't making progress, either. After three years, schools must offer tutoring to poor students who are failing the reading section of the FCAT. And after four years — which four Palm Beach County schools face this year — the superintendent can replace the staff, extend the days of the school year or retrain the staff to use a new curriculum.
At Starlight Cove Elementary, Principal Susan Saint John was dismayed that 52 students chose to go somewhere else besides her school, which is near Lantana. Her school hasn't made adequate progress for two years, but was graded a B — "four points from an A," Saint John said — by the state, which uses a different system for assigning school letter grades.
She said her school is in a rundown neighborhood, one that is changing, but not fast enough for many of her students' parents. And her students' choice for a different school is the brand new West Boynton Elementary.
"When I ask parents, they're not unhappy," Saint John said. "I was floored with those numbers. Those are higher numbers than last year."
Program sought-after option
At some other schools: 58 students want to leave Lincoln Elementary in Riviera Beach; 46 students want out of Barton Elementary in Lake Worth;
58 students want to transfer from Congress Middle; and 73 students want to leave Palm Beach Lakes High.
This year, the first time the district provided tutoring, several snags kept about 500 students from getting it until late January — about a month before students take the reading and math FCAT. This year, the district had to pay for up to $1,281 tutoring each student. Scott, the district's federal grants director, said she expects it to be about the same next school year.
But school officials were pleased that the most popular option among parents was for their children to stay at their current school and enroll in a special program. Parents of more than 5,400 students wanted this.
"It's just encouraging to see that if we're offering, parents are choosing it," said Judy Brennan, the district's boundaries and demographics manager. "They don't automatically think that the bus is the best way
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