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Federal Funds Pay for Ads Promoting Charter Schools

Albany -- Brighter Choice group uses federal grant to pay for spots aimed at city's parents

A group pushing for new charter schools and other educational options has taken to the airwaves in efforts to inform some parents that they may be able to send their kids elsewhere under guidelines of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

"It's a substantial buy," said Tom Caroll, project director for the Brighter Choice Public School Project, which is using a federal grant to pay for the TV ads. They started airing Tuesday.

"I do believe that Albany parents do have the right and should have the right to make the decision of where their child should go (to school)," reads part of a 30-second spot in which a mother explains that Albany students have several options under the new federal law. The ad then posts a toll-free number to call for more information.

The ads are aimed particularly at parents of students at the city's two middle schools, Hackett and Livingston, as well as Arbor Hill elementary, which have been identified by the state as poor-performing schools.

Carroll, who also helped start the affiliated Brighter Choice charter school, could not immediately say how much the ads cost to produce and air but predicted the amount should easily fall in the "six figure" range. The Brighter Choice Project last fall received a four-year $4.4 million grant from the federal Department of Education to help propagate school choice options for kids in poor-performing schools, and the ads are coming from
those monies.

The ads drew criticism from Albany school Superintendent Lonnie Palmer, whose district has taken several hits regarding No Child Left Behind,including a lawsuit by a parent who claims she wasn't properly notified that her child was in a poor-performing school.

"I'm a little bit concerned that Department of Education money is being used for this. They are spending a lot of money to do this," Palmer said of the ads.

"With $4.4 million we could hire 80 teachers or 135 teaching assistants. We could provide one-on-one tutoring to 2,000-plus kids."

Under No Child Left Behind, students in schools with low or stagnant test scores are supposed to be able to transfer to another school either inside or outside their districts. Those schools in the former category include Livingston, Hackett, and Arbor Hill.

The trouble is, many of the most popular schools in Albany such as magnet schools are already full, making transfers impractical.

"Right now, Albany does not have the capacity to attend to all of the students who need attention," said Marjorie Rush, a former state Education Department official and Brighter Choice charter school board member who is working with the Bright Choice Project as well.

No Child Left Behind also states that students can transfer out of their districts. So Brighter Choice also wants to spread the word that Albany kids may be able to attend school in the suburbs.

Carroll said officials in several suburban districts, including North and South Colonie, Guilderland and East Greenbush, have said they would consider accepting some transfer students from Albany. Brighter Choice, Carroll said, could help pay for the tuition and even transportation for transfer students.

Students wishing to transfer out of Albany, though, would probably be selected on a case-by-case basis, added Rush.

That prompted cries of "cherry picking" or the practice of selecting only those students who are likely to succeed academically. "What's the intent here, to take all the middle-class kids out of Albany and leave the rest behind?" asked Palmer.

He noted that city's two charter schools, New Covenant and Brighter Choice, have a much lower proportion of children with special education designations than the city district. "They are taking kids who have less needs," he said.

Carroll said Tuesday's ad was the first in a series and that they will initially run for the next three to four weeks.

— Rick Karlin
TV ads stress school options
Albany Times-Union
Jan. 29, 2003


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