Iowa school districts band together


The Iowa City School District has banded together with seven other Iowa school districts in a request to opt out from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Title I program of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

“[The Elementary and Secondary Education Act] has been in place for quite some time, it was supposed to be reviewed several times over the past decade,” said Mary Ellen Maske, the deputy superintendent of Cedar Rapids School District. “It has not been reviewed at the federal level …”

Federal law requires states that wish to opt out of the sanctions to submit a waiver, Maske said.

The other seven districts applying for this waiver are Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Muscatine, Sioux City, and Waterloo.

Numerous school officials have listed this overdue reauthorization as an obstacle to their goal of helping the students in their districts.

“Currently, the funds set aside for supplemental-education services are limited to students who attend schools that are labeled [Schools in Need of Assistance], and not all Title I schools are [such] schools,” Pam Ehly, the director of curriculum in the Iowa City School District, wrote in an email.

The reason the districts have decided to work together, Ehly said, is that if numerous districts apply for the waiver as a group, they have a higher chance of receiving it.

“Among the schools that are applying, last year, we set aside $6 million to give to outside supplemental-service providers,” said Thomas Ahart, the superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools. “[They] ended up serving no more than 7 percent of our students with no measurable results, and we think we can do a much better job utilizing that money ourselves in a systematic way.”

Officials from both the Council Bluffs School District and the Cedar Rapids School District expressed concerns about spending a large amount on external supplemental-service providers and students not having adequate classroom improvement even with that expenditure.

On top of that, Martha Bruckner, the superintendent of Council Bluffs School District, said her district has had problems with agencies that volunteered to help their students. Some groups ended up not giving the supplementary lessons for elementary and secondary-education students if they could not get enough students to sign up for the supplementary lessons.

Another problem that the districts face is that families are able to choose to go to a school that has met all their Title 1 school targets and the school district must provide them with transportation, even if that school is not large enough of a facility.

“In our district, as of this year, we believe that the only school we can send them to is a very small school on the edge of our district,” Bruckner said. “… According to the rules, we will have to provide transportation for any families that want to go to that school, whether we have room or not.”

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