Hazen Union declines Title One funding

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(Host) Several Vermont schools are expected to turn down a share of federal funding in order to avoid a provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Vermont schools receive federal money to help disadvantaged children under a program known as Title One. It’s not much – under $30,000 per school annually. In return, Title One schools have to meet certain goals for improving student performance.

Now, under the No Child Left Behind Act passed a year and a half ago, there’s a deadline for those improvements. The law calls for tough measures against schools that receive Title One money and don’t make adequate progress over a five-year period.

Hazen Union High School in Hardwick was one of a number of Vermont schools under the Title One gun. Because student test scores weren’t improving in time to meet an upcoming deadline, the school faced the consequences prescribed under No Child Left Behind. Shirley Richardson is a principal at Hazen Union.

(Richardson) “As a result of the No Child Left Behind component of that federal law, it had some rather severe consequences for us. The state could have taken us over. Another thing would be to replace the administration, replace the faculty.”

(Zind) The school has decided to give up its Title One money, rather than submit to those consequences. Jim Lovinsky is chairman of the Hazen Union School Board.

(Lovinsky) “We felt it would be devastating to our school and our community.”

(Zind) Lovinsky says in Hazen Union’s case, the Title One money amounts to only about $10,000 out of a four million dollar school budget. More than the money, though, Lovinsky says school officials were concerned that refusing Title One money and opting out of the federal timetable would make it look as though Hazen Union wasn’t interested in improving student performance. He says the school is working hard – offering additional help for students and getting advice from consultants. Principal Shirley Richardson;

(Richardson) “We recognize the areas where are students need to continue to grow and perform at higher levels. We know exactly where those points are and we are working aggressively on that improvement plan.”

(Zind) State officials agree that opting out of the federal timetable for improving student performance doesn’t get a school off the hook. Bud Meyers is a deputy commission with the Department of Education. Meyers says the state could take its own action if a school consistently underperforms and ultimately the action could be similar to the steps called for in No Child Left Behind.

Meyers says the difference is in approach. Instead of what he calls the lock-step approach of federal law, Meyers says state officials are flexible and willing to give struggling schools more time.

(Meyers) “They can lengthen out the decision to reorganize and restructure the school by a period of years, whereas the federal law puts the schools on a clock.”

(Zind) Meyers says he expects several other Vermont schools will follow Hazen Union’s lead and decide to decline federal Title One funds. The schools will still have to comply with the other provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, like requirements for teacher training and certification and child safety.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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