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Dist. 214 leans toward scrapping Title I funds

Miriam “Mimi” Cooper says she sincerely believes that teachers in Northwest Suburban High School District 214 schools are doing all they can to help every student excel.

And it’s with that in mind, she says, that she’ll likely vote this week to turn down federal Title I funds that demand stern — and, some say, unfair — reforms at schools that fail in some capacity to meet strict No Child Left Behind standards.

District 214 for years has collected Title I cash for its low-income students, to the tune of about $358,000 last year. The board Thursday will take up the question of whether that money is worth it when it comes with strings attached.

“If we’re not already trying to do better, it would make sense” to take the money and follow the guidelines, Cooper said. “But if we turn down this money it’s not because we’re not going to try to help kids.”

A clear majority of the board appears to agree with her.

They stress that saying no to Title I cash — something Wheeling Township Elementary District 21 and Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 already have done — does not mean opting out of No Child Left Behind altogether.

The state still holds all districts accountable for progress and has mandates of its own. Among those are school improvement plans, already created by District 214 this year.

Forgoing Title I cash will, though, get District 214 out of federal No Child sanctions. Those include transfer-out options for teens in Title I schools — Elk Grove, Rolling Meadows and Wheeling — and outside tutoring for Title I teens. Down the road, reforms could go so far as a state takeover.

“I don’t think it’s actually worth it” to take the money, board Vice President Alva Kreutzer said. “I really don’t.”

Two other board members, Bob Zimmanck and Bill Dussling, also have said they support opting out of the Title I funding. Neither Dussling nor member Bill Blaine could be reached for comment Tuesday.

Board member Lenore Bragaw said Tuesday she’d prefer to keep the funding for now.

Board member Leslie Pinney said she remains undecided, although she said she believes District 214 will strive regardless to boost all teens’ scores.

District 214 stands to lose $196,000, or about 1 percent of its budget, next school year if it declines the Title I funding. It also would save $4,000 by not offering the tutoring option, and some believe the savings could be even greater than that.

But more important than the finances, officials say, is their belief that the tutoring would result in educational inequities.

The law only requires tutoring for Title I teens in Title I schools. A low-income teen at Buffalo Grove High — which has too few low-income kids to qualify as a Title I school — wouldn’t be eligible. There are about 950 Title I students in Title I schools who are eligible, but there’s only enough cash for 190 of them to receive it.

“We’re leaving a lot of kids behind,” Cooper said. “Doesn’t that fly in the face of what this is all about?”

Bragaw doesn’t see it that way. She said offering tutoring to even a limited number of teens might be a good idea, noting the district could start with the students who came the closest to achieving.

“The (Title I) money is intended to help the very students who need to be helped,” she said, adding: “Maybe it’s worth a try one more year.”

Board members have stressed they believe the intent of No Child legislation is good. But the expectation that success can come overnight, some say, is lofty, and the sanctions for failure strict and pricey.

Declining Title I now does not prohibit the district from taking the cash in the future. At that point, the district’s sanctions slate will be wiped clean.

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— Erin Holmes
Daily Herald


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