Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Money for Low-Income Students Drying Up; Private/parochial Schools Seeking Help from Duval to Keep Academic Services

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Money for Low-Income Students Drying Up; Private/parochial Schools Seeking Help from Duval to Keep Academic Services

Article excerpt

Byline: Denise Smith Amos

Hundreds of low-income students at private or parochial schools in Duval County will likely lose tutoring and other academic help about 12 weeks before school ends because the federal money paying for it is drying up.

Alarmed private schools are calling on Duval school officials to help them out, even citing job losses that could result. The problems come as Duval public schools have managed to use Title 1 funds in more of their own schools. But Duval Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says the district, which is responsible for also sending the funds to private schools, did nothing wrong.

It is the unintended consequence of changes Duval County public school officials made to how they spend $35 million of federal Title 1 money in their own schools, Vitti explained.

About 1,800 impoverished children attending Catholic schools in Duval County will be affected, said JoAnn Leskanic, curriculum coordinator of the Diocese of St. Augustine, which operates 33 Catholic schools in seven counties, including in Duval, and oversees churches in 17 counties.

"We are all beside ourselves," she said about the cuts.

It is unknown how many students in other private schools are affected. District officials said about 30 to 40 private schools are involved.

St. Augustine Diocese officials asked for state help late last week.

Patricia Bronsard, superintendent of the diocese, asked the state's official overseeing federal school programs to look into the Title 1 cuts, their timing and how they were announced, and to include it as part of a previously scheduled audit of Duval's Title 1 programs.

"These are the very children who can't afford to lose instructional services," Bronsard said. "As educators, we know that services provided consistently throughout the academic year are the most effective."

Bronsard said Friday that she asked if there is any way the state can make up the lost funds, which Vitti said is about $580,000. The state official was out of the office, co-workers said.

Vitti said he sympathizes with the private schools, but the district is trying to use its funds more efficiently. It has done nothing wrong, he said.

"All of the rules and regulations were followed," he said.

The federal Title 1 program directs extra dollars to schools with high percentages of low-income students, helping pay for such extra services as tutoring, pull-out lessons, and after-school reading or math. Schools also can use the funds to send students on field trips, purchase technology, hire coaches for its teachers or buy special classroom materials.

In Duval's case, much of the money is helping it set up "Saturday Schools" at more than 40 locations, where teachers are paid to give kids extra academic help on weekends.

Most Title 1 money nationwide goes to public schools, but equity rules require that some of it helps low-income students at private schools if those students would have qualified for Title 1 at their neighborhood public school.

In Florida, a formula determines how much money flows through districts to private schools, though districts can influence that. …

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