Thursday, June 13, 2002

Schools fret over new busing rule




By Jennifer Mrozowski, jmrozowski@enquirer.com
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        This fall, hundreds of Kentucky and Ohio schools may be required to pay to bus students to higher-performing schools as part of President Bush's new federal education legislation.

        As part of the “No Child Left Behind Act” signed in Hamilton in January, schools that don't meet state goals for academic progress must pay to transport students, if a parent requests it, to higher-achieving schools in their district or to a public charter school.

        Last year in Kentucky, 149 schools schools out of 1,250 did not meet their goals for proficiency in 2000.

        In Ohio, 900 public schools — of nearly 3,900 schools in Ohio — did not meet academic improvement goals.

        School districts are scrambling this summer to inform principals of the law's requirements so principals can notify parents of their rights.

        “We're in a very awkward period,” said Stephen Barr, executive director of Ohio's Office of School Reform and Federal Student Programs. “Typically we have a year to get prepped. But we're not expecting the huge shift (to different schools) some people are anticipating.”

        The provision applies to schools receiving Title I funding, which is federal money based on how many low-income students the school has enrolled.

        The Ohio Department of Education on Tuesday sent a letter to principals informing them of the law. It said principals will receive a report in mid-July outlining which schools are in “school improvement” status for not meeting goals.

        In Ohio, public schools that haven't increased by 2.5 percentage points in reading and/or math on both fourth- and sixth-grade tests in each of two consecutive years were labeled in “school improvement.” The state might use different measures in the future as it begins testing students in other grades as part of the new federal education law.

        Schools, including charter schools, that haven't met their achievement goals must inform parents in August and offer options to transport students to achieving schools.

        Districts that have only one school are asked to arrange transportation from a failing school to an achieving school in a neighboring district.

        In Kentucky, schools that don't meet state improvement goals are labeled in “school improvement.” The goals include reaching proficiency in reading, math, science, social studies and other areas by 2014.

        However, Kentucky on Monday applied to the federal government to continue to use its own system for school choice, said Judy Tabor, director of the Division of Federal Program Resources.

        Under that system, the lowest-performing schools would not have to offer transportation to higher-performing schools before 2005.

        On both sides of the river, school officials wonder whether parents will take advantage of the choice option.

        Kentucky has had a provision in its accountability system for a decade to allow students to be transported from failing schools. Since 1992, no students have taken advantage of that provision, said Department of Education spokeswoman Lisa Gross.

        Some school districts are preparing for the school choice options, while others say the new federal provisions may not affect them.

        “Potentially, it could be a big transportation cost for districts,” said Joni Copas, spokeswoman of Hamilton City Schools in Butler County.

        Cincinnati Public Schools spokeswoman Jan Leslie said the district welcomes the school accountability requirement in the federal legislation, which is similar to Cincinnati's school accountability plan.

        In Cincinnati, persistently failing schools must redesign their school curriculum and hire new staff.

       



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