Santa Barbara News-Press, 7/7/05

Goleta finds compromise on 'No Child'
District to shift federal funds to poorest schools, restricting reach of sanctions

By Rob Kuznia, News-Press Staff Writer

Goleta children during testing?Three months after the Goleta school board considered becoming the first district in the state to opt out of the federal No Child Left Behind law, it has found a compromise that lets it keep the federal money and partially escape the consequences.

The board is shifting federal dollars reserved for low-income students away from some elementary schools, largely to exempt them from the law's penalties.

The move means that, starting this fall, Brandon School will not receive the annual $35,000 to augment instruction for low-income children. Ellwood School will lose its $38,000 starting in 2006-07. In turn, those schools, the board determined, will not be subject to the "demoralizing" penalties meted out by the law, which was signed by President Bush in 2002.

Meanwhile, the federal money from those schools will go to the elementary district's three poorest schools: Isla Vista, El Camino and La Patera. Those schools would still be subject to the sanctions, which have already befallen Isla Vista.

"I would prefer to be out all the way because I feel it's a destructive act," said board member Dean Nevins, who initially pushed the idea of opting out completely. But, he said, the "compromise . . . focuses resources on schools that really need it. That's the other way to look at it."

The Goleta school board unanimously approved the move a week ago, during a meeting that stretched past midnight.

"This is totally nonsense," said Rich Foster, the only person present for the decision. "If you want the money from NCLB, play by the rules of NCLB. . . . You're benefiting (Isla Vista) students and El Camino students at the expense of other students in this district."

student reading at IVThree months ago, the Goleta board discussed opting out of No Child Left Behind by refusing to take the federal money. Although the law is commonly criticized by educators around the state, no California school district has taken that step.

The law also has been publicly criticized by entire states.

In May, the Utah Legislature passed a measure giving state education standards priority over No Child Left Behind. The bill was seen by many as the strongest objection to the federal law among 15 states considering anti-No Child Left Behind legislation this year.

The nine-school Goleta district is not breaking the law in shifting around the federal money for poor students -- known as Title I funds -- said Maria Reyes, a state consultant who works in the Title I office of the California Department of Education.

She said it is hard to say whether the district is following the spirit of the federal law.

"It's hard for me to judge from up here, if I don't know what's going on at the local level," she said.

Although Ms. Reyes said she did not know whether Goleta's move is common, at least one other California district has done the same thing. The K-8 Escondido Union School District near San Diego decided to shift its federal Title I dollars away from two of its five middle schools and into its elementary schools.

But outgoing Goleta Superintendent Ida Rickborn said other districts weren't a factor.

"We made our decision independent of any other school," she said. "We felt it probably was best to consolidate as many resources at the three (poorest) schools as we could."

The No Child Left Behind Act aims to get all lower-achieving students over the same ascending academic hurdle. Supporters say it has resulted in improved test scores nationwide. The federal government penalizes schools where at least one subset of students -- such as English language learners or special education students -- fails to meet the threshold.

The goal is to have 100 percent of students in every subgroup scoring "proficient" on a battery of exams by 2014. The threshold is currently set at 25 percent, and critics say that the increasing bar will result in an overwhelming number of sanctioned schools in coming years.

In Goleta, the issue of the district opting out of No Child Left Behind was spurred by teachers who said that the sanctions -- or threat of them -- are demoralizing.

During the first year of sanctions, a school must inform its parents that they may send their children to a higher-performing school, with the district picking up the tab for transportation. If the schools do not dig themselves out, the sanctions intensify annually, to the point where the entire staff can be replaced.

Schools that do not receive federal money for high numbers of low-income students are not subject to the sanctions. Theoretically, if an entire district rejected the federal money, it, too, would be exempt from sanctions. Proponents such as Mr. Nevins insisted it was possible in Goleta, which is financially better off than most school districts.

School officials insist that the move is more about meeting increasingly rigorous standards than it is about escaping penalties.

"The rules and expectations for (schools) have changed," said Dan Cooperman, the district's assistant superintendent of instructional services. "We're trying to adjust to new circumstances."

Technically, the district is raising the threshold for eligibility for Title I funds. Historically, the money has gone to Goleta schools where 35 percent of the students are considered low-income. Now, the bar has been raised to 50 percent.

The district's poorest school, Isla Vista, has a student base that is 68 percent low-income, while El Camino is at 61.5 percent and La Patera is just over 50 percent.



Under a compromise plan, Isla Vista School and two others in the Goleta district will receive more federal funds shifted from other schools.

In this March photo, Julio Rubio reads during homework time at Isla Vista School, one of three Goleta schools that will receive federal funding shifted from other campuses in the district.

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