Education Dept. lifts rule on transfers
BY ANDREA EGER World Staff Writer
Saturday, November 10, 2012
11/10/12 at 7:22 AM
The Oklahoma State Department of Education has notified school districts across the state that they don't have to offer school choice to as many schools as originally intended.
The U.S. Department of Education previously granted Oklahoma regulatory relief from the federal No Child Left Behind Act, allowing state education officials to replace the 10-year-old school accountability standards and the consequences for failing to meet those standards.
Under the new system, schools identified as Priority or Focus schools would have had to offer parents the choice to transfer their child to a higher-achieving school.
But in a letter sent out statewide Friday, the assistant state superintendent, Kerri White, told schools that they won't be required to offer transfers at Focus schools in 2012-13 because the state is seeking approval from the federal government for additional changes.
Tricia Pemberton, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, said there is no guarantee the feds will approve, but the state was compelled to move forward with this one change anyway.
"This particular item - notifying parents of their choice to move their child if their school is identified as Focus - was brought to us by numerous school administrators from across the state as an area of particular concern, and we wanted to grant them relief," Pemberton said.
The state is soon expected to name about 90 sites as Priority schools, and those will still have to offer school choice to parents.
In the executive summary of their No Child Left Behind waiver application, state officials said they were driving a reform agenda that would offer "an expanded menu of educational choices for parents."
It also states, "the State acknowledges that any relaxation of its commitment to these reforms would risk denial of the (No Child Left Behind) waiver package."
Tulsa area school leaders said they were relieved but still unclear about the state's reasons for the last-minute announcement. School-choice notices were due to be sent to parents any day now.
Broken Arrow Public Schools was poised to send out letters to parents at three schools that will be designated by the state as Focus sites. When the state's notice arrived on Friday, school officials scrambled to stop their own letters from going out so parents wouldn't be confused.
"With the rules constantly changing, we are struggling to understand the state's new system" said BA spokeswoman Tara Thompson. "This is yet another example of all of a sudden we get a letter from the state saying 'x' when we've been planning for 'y.' I don't want us to sound whiny - we fully believe in parent choice if that needs to happen. But let's get the logistics worked out and be clear on what we're communicating to school districts so they can communicate clearly with parents."
Chris Johnson, assistant superintendent for accountability at Tulsa Public Schools, said if local officials decide not to offer transfers from their seven sites that will soon be designated as Focus schools, federal Title I funding that would have been used to bus additional students could be put to better use.
"The change for us will be beneficial in some ways because if we decide not to offer choice at those Focus schools, we can use the funds that would have had to be spent on transportation to assist students in the schools where they already are," Johnson said.
School districts that receive federal Title I funding are required to set aside a significant portion for services including transportation and remedial education programs. The delay in the state's official announcement of targeted schools - which in previous years occurred in August or September - has delayed schools' use of those funds, and thus, services to students.
"This has put us behind in utilizing those federal funds which have been tied up. We could have already used those funds had the designations been approved quicker," Johnson said.
Qualifications for Priority schools
- Any school that receives
an F on the state’s A-F
school grading system
5 percent of all schools in
reading and math student
- Graduation rate less than
60 percent for three or more
- Any school that received a
federal School Improvement
Grant to implement a school
Qualifications for Focus schools
- Schools not identified as
Priority Schools or Reward
Schools (for most progress)
in the lowest-performing
30 percent of all schools in
reading and math student
achievement among three
subgroups — students with
disabilities, English Language
Learners and black students
— if the school had higher
than the state’s average
population percentage for
Source: Oklahoma State Department of Education No Child Left Behind waiver application
Andrea Eger 918-581-8470