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NCLB Outrages

NCLB Requires Transfer of $500,000+ to Train Private School Teachers

More than $500,000 in tax money is funneled through the Palm Beach County School District to pay for training of private school teachers, and that angers several school board members who had to cut their budget to make ends meet.

Board members Monroe Benaim, Sandra Richmond and Debra Robinson balked last week at having to make a federally required transfer of $569,000 to five consulting companies that will train 1,136 private school teachers. The teachers hail from 45 schools in Palm Beach County. All but six are religious schools, according to district records.

"It's your tax dollars and mine going to situations where accountability is not in order yet," Benaim said. "We know who's standing in front of the kids in the public schools; we don't know who is in the private."

A federal grant, issued under the No Child Left Behind Act, provides all of the money for the training, in keeping with the 2001 law's requirement that private school students receive equitable services to those offered to their public school peers.

The federal law dictates that "a public agency shall administer the funds and property" it allocates to private schools.

Census counts of the numbers of school-age children in a household, and the families' incomes, determine how much Title II grant money Palm Beach County receives annually.

"The law says that money generated for these grants comes from taxes and it should be available to all students," said Kay Scott, federal grants director for the district. "That's the way it's set up."

Under the same federal grant, another $6.4 million went to the district to train, recruit and retain its teachers. Most of that was dedicated to training, especially for staff at the 38 low-performing, poverty-riddled schools designated in Superintendent Art Johnson's Accelerated Academic Achievement plan, according to the grants office.

The federal money for the private sector can't go directly to the schools, and instead must be used for things such as staff development.

"The money has to be accounted for," said Scott, whose five-member staff, including herself, is paid for by the federal Department of Education. "We have to make sure the money given for the staff development doesn't go to pay for a new gymnasium floor, as it might if it went right to the individual private schools."

That's the logic behind why the district must act as financial custodians for the private school system. But the dissenting board members don't understand why there is a policy that siphons off public dollars in the first place.

It was especially difficult in a month when a majority of the board felt that a $60 million deficit forced them to eliminate teachers' automatic experience-based raises, aides and seventh-period classes to cut expenses.

Even though the state increased the district's money this year, half of it was tied to class-size reduction requirements, and the district had to contend with 4,700 new students and rising utility and health insurance costs.

"I find it insulting that we as a board have to approve public funds to go to private schools," Robinson said. "There's a path of this money to those schools that is becoming more frequent."

Officials with the state Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment.

The school district has conducted dual training of private and public school teachers for years, Scott said.

Segregating those training sessions went into effect when No Child Left Behind began allocating a separate chunk of money and sending it as a block grant through the district to private schools.

A rankled Benaim calls that semantics, saying it still means tax dollars are paying for private school teachers.

"Because of what was exposed through The (Palm Beach) Post's work (on voucher accountability issues) and the legislature's work, it's coming to light that the kids are not getting the same bang for the buck," Benaim said.


— Cynthia Kopkowski
Private-school training money riles board
Palm Beach Post


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