Santa Cruz schools consider leaving No Child Left Behind behind
They need to read Bill Mathis's papers and consider what NCLB is costing them.
By Matt King
Leaders of the Santa Cruz City Schools district think they may have a way to sidestep some requirements of President Bush's No Child Left Behind — tell Uncle Sam to keep his money.
The proposal, backed by at least two of the district's seven trustees and at least one candidate for the school board, is in its infant stages. But the district will explore the possibility of rejecting about $1.2 million a year in so-called Title I money to regain control of curriculum and extra-help programs at its five schools in a state program mandated by No Child Left Behind.
Title I money is given to local schools where at least 40 percent of the students qualify for a free or reduced lunch. Schools that receive the money and don't meet federal goals based on math and English test scores are subject to program improvement, which imposes rules on how those schools can spend federal dollars and can end with schools losing control of day-to-day operations.
The problem with rejecting the money, though, is replacing it.
Without Title I funds, the district would be forced to find another funding source or cut into other parts of its $60 million budget.
"I don't think we should consider it right now because the financial impact would be too great," said Mick Routh, a board member up for re-election in November. "I think if we're looking at an imminent takeover by the state, that would be the time to look into it."
Those who support finding a way to live without the Title I funds say doing so would give local schools more say in how to help struggling students and help the district benefit from the good parts of No Child Left Behind without suffering from what they call its clumsy sanctions.
"The purpose is to identify under-served populations. I think that part of it has been good," said Cynthia Hawthorne, who is running for a seat on the district board. "The real tragedy is that it has narrowed curriculum so much at a time when the world is growing more complex and what is required is an innovative and creative curriculum to prepare our students to take their place in the global workforce."
Trustees Rachel Dewey Thorsett and Ken Wagman have also expressed support for exploring going without the funds.
Program improvement is linked to federal ratings — due out today — based on math and English test scores. Schools that do not show adequate yearly growth are required to provide additional math and English classes to struggling students, often at the expense of other basic classes. About 100 students at Branciforte Middle School, for example, will not have a science class this year.
Schools that do not receive Title I funds are not subject to program improvement.About 5,900 California schools receive Title I money and about 2,000 are in program improvement.
California districts have not started opting out of Title I funding, but state education officials are preparing for it. They have closed a potential loophole in program improvement by declaring that schools that give up federal funds can not reclaim them a year or two later and move to the beginning of program improvement, which gets more onerous the longer a school is in it.
"We suspect that the number of schools that receive Title I funding one year and not the next may increase," said Rachel Perry, of the policy division of the California Department of Education. "We put that safeguard in place just in case there are schools and districts try to jockey the system."
Santa Cruz Sentinel
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES