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Tuesday, June 7, 2011 04:49 pm

Public School Choice not quite revisited

Two newspaper articles, 12 days and at least one school board member’s questions later, the CEO of Springfield Public Schools says he’s not yet able to discuss a Public School Choice waiver application that would decrease the number of students’ families notified about potential options for moving from their failing school from more than 4,000 to about 40.

Public School Choice is a No Child Left Behind initiative that requires any school that fails to meet standards for two straight years to offer its students a chance to move to a better-performing school. Though students can be transferred to any school, District 186 only sends kids from Title I schools to other Title I schools. Title I is the federal legislation that provides additional funding for high-poverty schools. The district’s Title I coordinator, Larry McVey, told Illinois Times last month that he sent a draft application for a waiver, which would reduce the number of required parental notifications, to the Illinois State Board of Education and was waiting for feedback to see if the waiver would be deemed appropriate. I wrote about the issue on Thursday, May 26, and the State Journal-Register published a report about the waiver request the next day.

District 186 Superintendent Dr. Walter Milton said after Monday night’s school board meeting that he hadn’t seen any media reports regarding the waiver request and that he couldn’t comment on the issue because he had not yet discussed it with McVey.

Obviously, I like to think people read the stuff I write, so I’m less than thrilled to hear that Milton wasn’t “aware” of my article, but the more important aspect of this, worth the concern of the general public, is that the Public School Choice waiver was included in the district’s Title I plan. That plan was supposed to be approved by the school board at last night’s meeting. McVey first presented the plan to the school board – and Dr. Walter Milton – three weeks earlier, and at least one school board member prior to the meeting had requested from Milton more information specifically about Public School Choice.

Fortunately, the district has a little bit of time. McVey told board members last night that the waiver application, if the district chooses to officially submit it, isn’t due until June 30 (ISBE’s website says July 30). At Monday’s meeting, Milton suggested continuing the conversation at a later date, after he had a chance to meet with McVey, and school board members chose to push a vote on the district’s Title I plan until the next meeting, June 20.

The waiver is included in the district’s Title I plan, the approval of which was scheduled for Monday night but was delayed due to needed language clarifications and questions from school board members regarding the waiver request.

After the meeting, Milton pretty much shut down my waiver line of questions: “I think if you ask me this question probably next board meeting, I’ll be able to give you a specific response. I’m just not one to give a response that I haven’t spent too much time dealing with. So my goal is to sit down with Mr. McVey and have a very specific conversation with him. I haven’t had that as of yet.”

Well, I’m not patient enough not to ask my questions for two more weeks, so here those questions are, for those of you who do pay attention to Springfield news outlets:

• If the district does not have to transfer, and has never even come close to transferring, all of those students to whom the option is given and who apply for a move, why reduce the number of students whose families receive notification about Public School Choice? Doesn’t a decrease from more than 4,000 notifications to a mere 40 simply reduce the level of transparency regarding the district’s failing schools?

• I understand that many low-income students require additional supports, which are provided at other Title I schools (which receive extra federal dollars), but studies show that mixing low-income kids with middle-income and wealthy students can help boost low-income students’ academic achievement. Also, a look at District 186’s high-poverty schools's performances versus its lower-poverty schools' performaces shows that high poverty schools do not perform as well as lower poverty schools. Is this a segregation issue? Does the federal Title I funding policy create an incentive for income-based segregation?

I guess that's all for now. I'm looking forward to the June 20 meeting and some real discussion.

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