School administrator suggests turning down federal funds

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 14, 2003

SUFFOLK – The superintendent of Suffolk’s public schools has asked the School Board to consider rejecting $3.5 million in federal money rather than abide by the &uot;Draconian” rules of the No Child Left Behind school accountability law.

Superintendent Milton R. Liverman said it’s not worth the effort, cost and public embarrassment of compliance and sanctions. The federal money represents about 3.4 percent of the division’s $102 million operating budget.

No Child Left Behind sanctions apply only to schools and divisions that receive money for certain federal programs, such as Title I, which boosts reading and math instruction for the poorest students. The law requires, among other things, annual progress in standardized test scores for up to 35 subgroups of students.


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Several Vermont and Connecticut schools have turned down Title I grants this fall to escape the federal requirements, and educators and lawmakers in several states have criticized President Bush for failing to provide adequate funding to allow schools to comply with the law.

Liverman said Suffolk and other school divisions are torn between the sometimes conflicting provisions of state and federal public school accountability laws.

&uot;It’s like trying to serve two different masters, and the two masters have different things on their minds,” he said.

Gov. Mark R. Warner said he understands Liverman’s frustration.

&uot;While the goals of No Child Left Behind in terms of increasing student accountability and performance make sense, what we’ve seen from the federal government so far is an enormous amount of bureaucracy but not a lot of funding,” Warner said Tuesday in an interview in Richmond.

&uot;I wouldn’t be turning down federal dollars, but I do think we need to continue to work with our partners at the federal level to improve the legislation,” he said.

The Virginia Department of Education had no immediate comment on Liverman’s proposal, department spokesman Charles Pyle said.

Almost three-quarters of Suffolk’s 18 schools are expected to have reached full state accreditation or climbed within 5 percentage points of it, three years before a state deadline. The same test results analyzed in a different way show 44 percent of the schools failing to meet No Child Left Behind standards this year.

&uot;That’s a major morale defeat for these folks,” Liverman said. &uot;You work hard, you achieve benchmarks that for five years you’ve been told to meet, and all of a sudden: Bam! …You’re told you’re a failure.”

The sanctions for inadequate progress include using up to 20 percent of the federal money to bus students to better-performing schools. That takes money from classrooms, Liverman said. School divisions incur further costs, not all recovered, for things such as breaking down test scores for NCLB analysis and compiling paperwork for safe-schools requirements. Suffolk increased pay for classroom aides who must meet tougher training requirements.

School Board members said Liverman’s idea is worth considering.

&uot;Federal money comes with a lot of strings attached to it,” said James E. Perkinson, the board’s vice chairman. &uot;Sometimes it becomes more costly to accept the money.”