Schools face cuts as goals stay same
This story of less money from the Feds is repeated across the country. Less money but people still marching to the corporate-politico drummer.
By Karen Rouse
Two-thirds of Colorado's school districts will get less money for education next year under the No Child Left Behind program, even though they will remain accountable for the rigorous, and what many officials consider costly, requirements of the federal law, state data show.
Overall, the state will get $164.3 million in federal grants to spend on public education for the coming school year under the education act. That is a nearly $10 million increase from last year, according to preliminary data from the Colorado Department of Education. Exact dollar amounts are expected to be released this week.
A Denver Post analysis shows that 57 districts - including Denver and Cherry Creek - will get a funding boost. But the remaining 121 districts will lose money.
Among those losing money is the Littleton School District, which has lost $438,500 since the act took effect four years ago.
"It is like a double whammy for us," said Superintendent Stan Scheer, who cut math and reading literacy programs and salaries as his funding diminished.
The law requires districts to get students up to federal math and reading standards even as funding dropped, he said.
"The requirements for NCLB have not gone away. The net effect has created a very difficult situation for us in Littleton," said Scheer, who calls the act an "underfunded mandate."
The reason for the funding drop, state and national experts say, is that the 2001 education reform act targets high-poverty schools nationally. When the number of poor children goes up nationally, a local district with poor kids can lose money as funds are shifted to districts nationwide that have greater increases in poor children.
"The driving force is the number of economically disadvantaged children compared to every district in the country," said C. Todd Jones, associate deputy secretary for budget at the U.S. Department of Education.
In the Cherry Creek School District, which has a reputation as being wealthy, the percentage of children counted as economically disadvantaged met a federal threshold that made it eligible for a federal funding increase of almost 39 percent between the 2004-05 school year and the coming year.
Another factor in the funding drops is that - unlike the first two years of NCLB, when all but two Colorado districts were eligible for more money - the federal funding pot hasn't grown rapidly.
In the 2002-03 school year, the first year of education funding under NCLB, Colorado received $139 million - 30 percent more money than the prior year. By comparison, the increase this year was 6 percent, early figures show.
NCLB funds include grants for English learners, technology, safe and drug-free schools, and poor rural schools. But by far, Title 1 - funding for poor students - makes up the bulk of the money.
Before NCLB, grants targeted those low-income students, but they didn't set specific goals for achievement as NCLB does.
"The old law talked about kids making progress," said Thomas W. Fagan, a consultant to the Washington-based Center on Education Policy. "It would be so minimal, it really wouldn't result in them having
a good education."
Fagan said two-thirds of all districts nationwide that receive Title 1 dollars will see funding dip for the 2005-06 school year.
Under NCLB, every student - regardless of whether they are economically disadvantaged, disabled or English learners - must meet specific targets for math and reading each year with the goal of all students being proficient in both subjects by 2014.
Those requirements apply to every public school and district, and a set of student subgroups - white, black, Asian, Hispanic, American Indian, economically disadvantaged, special education and English learner.
When a school, district or subgroup falls short, the entire district is designated as having failed.
The result can be sanctions, such as districts having to notify their communities that they failed, offer tutoring or other supplemental services, and provide transportation for students to attend a school that didn't fail.
"It's not just making progress, it's setting a higher standard," Fagan said.
The problem, districts say, is that while the new standards apply to all students - not just the low-income ones - the funding hasn't increased proportionally.
NCLB "applies to all students, but we have the responsibility of raising standards for all subgroups to meet the targets of the law," said John Hefty, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives.
Hefty said the funding "has never been designed to address the needs of all students."
Getting kids up to a proficient level may mean having to add programs such as a preschool program or extra math and reading classes, which require more staffing and money for salaries and benefits, educators say.
In Littleton, many of those programs are funded with local dollars because the 17,000-member student population didn't have enough students who meet the federal government's threshold for additional poverty funding, Scheer said.
The district held a summer school for the first time this year that targeted elementary school students such as English learners and kids from low-income families, who often perform poorly on the Colorado Student Assessment Program, the state's test for gauging whether students are meeting federal math and reading standards.
"Meeting the goals of NCLB costs money," Scheer said.
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES