The state of Washington and almost all of its school districts, including those in Montesano, Elma and McCleary, are struggling to conform and comply to always-evolving federal standards — and that may cost some educators their jobs, not to mention millions in federal funding which may be siphoned from everyday classrooms to private-sector tutoring programs.
Due to recent inaction by the state Legislature, which failed to tie standardized testing results to teacher evaluations as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, the state’s school districts lost much of their flexibility on how it can use some federal funds.
The state lost its waiver that provided districts flexibility to use nearly $40 million in federal funds to support struggling and low-income students.
“Loss of that funding means those districts now face potential impacts that could include laying off some of Washington’s tremendous teachers or cutting back on programs that serve at-risk students. I hope districts will work to mitigate impacts on students. I know that despite this setback Washington teachers remain fully committed to serving our students,” Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement in late April.
With a relatively high share of low-income and struggling students, Grays Harbor County schools could see significant impact.
Last week, state Superintendent Randy Dorn released a list of schools that are among the lowest 10 percent for performance among lower-income and at-risk students. In East County, those schools include McCleary Elementary, Oakville High School and Montesano High School. No schools in the Elma School District were identified among the lowest 10 percent.
McCleary Elementary and Oakville High are the only East County schools listed as “Priority Schools” or among the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state for assessments in reading and math over three years.
The lowest 10 percent are listed as “Focus Schools,” which includes Montesano High School. Other Harbor schools on that list include Miller Junior High, McDermoth, and Robert Gray in Aberdeen and Hoquiam Middle School.
These designations were developed as part of Washington’s waiver that provided relief from some requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The Focus schools will receive additional funding and support to help them meet the needs of all their students. A total of 284 schools were identified as priority or focus out of an estimated 1,800 eligible schools statewide.
“As a Priority School, we don’t get any funding, but what we have to do … is a school-improvement action plan,” said Montesano School District Superintendent Dan Winter. “It’s a state-mandated plan.”
Part of that plan will have to include emphasis on low-income and at-risk students at the high school, Winter said.
“That’s an area we need to focus on,” he added, “to see that these kids that are low-income are seeing the same success as others are having.”
While the Elma School District didn’t have a single school on the list, Superintendent Howard King empathizes with those in neighboring districts.
“Part of the deal, too, is that that the standards have really risen,” said King. “The assessments are really more challenging than even two years ago. For us, I’m really pleased. I know a bunch of people are working real hard here.”
King said no matter how well any single school fared, all districts are going to have struggles because the loss of the state’s waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act means just about every school district in the state will now be restricted on how they can use federal Title 1 funds that focus on low-income and at-risk students.
Twenty percent of those funds — which could have been used for in-school classroom programs in the past – must now be dedicated toward after-school programs such as tutoring and, as King put it, could be funneled to off-site private tutoring agencies should students and parents choose so.
“That’s money we would have previously used for support within the school day,” King said. “For a number of districts, what that could perhaps mean is a reduction in staff.”
King said another 10 percent of those federal funds must be set aside purely for “staff development.”
That’s a grand total of 30 percent. Based on 2013-14 numbers, that’s amounts to $89,000 for the Elma District or what King called a “hefty sum.”
For the Montesano district, the amount is just more than $80,000.
While Winter said that some of that federal money could now be funneled toward for-profit, private companies such as Sylvan Learning Center, he felt most families would probably opt to have tutoring done by district teachers, which has been approved by the state Superintendent’s Office.
“That’s the route we would likely take unless there’s someone who really wants to go to Sylvan or something like that,” Winter said. Money to pay the private tutors would be billed to the district.
Both King and Winter acknowledged that many of these details are still being hashed out at the state level.
King is hoping something can be done to rectify some the consequences of the No Child Left Behind Act at the federal level.
“I know Sen. Patty Murray is really concerned about it,” King said. “And that’s where it really needs to be wrestled with — at the federal level.”
“What’s most important now is that we all do our part to rectify this situation,” Sen. Murray said in a statement. “From the Congressional viewpoint, that means working to update the outdated No Child Left Behind law in a way that works for our state, supports our teachers, and meets the needs of students today. … We must come together at all levels of government in order to put students first.”