Board of Ed draws QEIA line in sandNo waivers granted for academic shortfall
Administrators from Stockton Unified School District went home about $3 million poorer yesterday. They had traveled to Sacramento to appeal to the State Board of Education for waivers from the academic requirements of the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA). All five of the district’s K-8 schools receiving QEIA funds had failed to meet their Academic Performance Index targets, and that meant being expelled from the program at the end of this school year.
The principals argued their cases, some more compelling than others. Monroe had undergone an entire change in leadership, Grunsky had two special day classes added after becoming a QEIA school, Roosevelt and Van Buren experienced high teacher turnover, and Nightingale, a new charter, needed more time to prove itself.
It didn’t take long for the State Board to decide the schools’ fate. Denied. Not just for Stockton, but also for another five schools in other districts.
“We took a bullet today,” a school principal was overheard saying to a colleague as they left the meeting room.
This month’s meeting marked the second time QEIA schools that missed their API marks had come to the Board seeking relief; and it was the second time that Board members rebuffed them. The Board has been liberal in approving waivers for going a little over class size reduction and a little under the teacher experience index, but for academic achievement, well, it’s a bit like Tevye’s ethical choice in Fiddler on the Roof: “On the other hand… No… there is no other hand.”
“They accepted the money. This was a voluntary grant, which they accepted under clear and explicit conditions and, therefore, in following the intent of the law they need to meet those conditions,” said Board President Michael Kirst after the meeting.
The entire board appears to have arrived at a consensus on this issue. ”We seem to have drawn a collective line with regard to the API,” said board member Carl Cohn. “Even though circumstances have changed dramatically, you still have to have some central tenet of a program like this and, for me, it is the API. ”
But Stockton school officials find the reasoning inconsistent. If the goal is to raise student achievement, why take away the money that’s providing additional teachers, resources, counselors and professional development necessary to help students learn. Van Buren principal Ione Ringen said without QEIA funds she’ll lose more than a quarter of her 32 teachers, boosting class size from 20 to 32.
“Losing this is going to negatively impact our students,” said Ringen. ”We come from high poverty areas with high numbers of second language learners, and having that opportunity to be in a smaller class has allowed them to have more individualized education.”
QEIA, for a quick refresher, was created to settle a lawsuit brought by the California Teachers Association against Gov. Schwarzenegger for failing to keep his promise to repay school districts and community colleges $2 billion “borrowed” from Proposition 98 in 2004-05 to help the state get through a budget crisis.
Under the agreement, schools in the lowest academic levels were eligible to apply for funds to improve achievement by maintaining class size reduction, hiring more counselors, providing more directed professional development, having more highly qualified teachers than the district average, and exceeding their API growth targets averaged over three years.
Since QEIA began, the State Board has approved 86 waivers and rejected six on non-academic grounds, and denied 16 for not meeting API goals. As of now, nearly 140 QEIA schools out of 474 have failed to meet at least one requirement. [Click here for chart] .
Department of Education staff warned the board on Thursday to expect waiver requests to mount. At least fifty more are on the docket for the July meeting propelled in part by the financial crisis that’s forced schools to lay off teachers and scale back class size reduction.
One waiver request expected to be reconsidered at the May board meeting could break the de facto API denial rule. Over the past few years, thousands of Iraqi refugees have resettled in eastern San Diego County, within the boundaries of El Cajon Valley High School.
The school population swelled by more than 700 students, nearly all English learners. El Cajon redirected some of its QEIA funds to organize community and social service organizations to help the students and their families adjust to life in America. The school’s API score dropped.
Department of Education staff recommended denial of the waiver, but the board postponed its vote until the next meeting, and asked the staff to try to peel off the refugees’ test scores to see how the school would have done without them. Regardless of those results, most board members suggested that this could be one of those difficult and exceptional situations that has no precedent.
“It seems to me that that as a state we have an obligation to ensure that our districts welcome these youngsters and make sure that they’re we’ll supported,” said Cohn. “This is markedly different from any other waiver request that’s been before us.”