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BY JAMES FARRELL Staff Writer Alison Tan, a longtime manager at the real estate firm Ackman-Ziff, recently sho…

California colleges transform remedial courses to raise graduation …



Before Aida Tseggai could major in biology at Cal State Dominguez Hills, she had to catch up in math.

She passed a non-credit remedial math class in the fall and then was offered a new pathway – a for-credit course in college-level algebra that provided extra class time, tutoring and review of more fundamental material.

Such combination classes – known as co-requisites, bridges or hybrids – are seen as a crucial tool to help hundreds of thousands of CSU students climb out of the remedial education hole in which some feel trapped. Part of a national reform movement, such courses also are aimed at helping students graduate faster.

“It saved me time and money,” said Tseggai.

Nervous at first about the spring co-requisite class, she wound up passing with a C grade. The combination of catch-up work and college level material, she said, was “very helpful. Like killing two birds with one stone.” Without that opportunity, her initial placement test results would have required her to take yet another non-credit remedial course.

CSU system administrators earlier this year said they want to turn all non-credit remedial classes into college-level credit bearing ones by 2018, with the co-requisite classes as the likely model. That move is an important part of the CSU campaign to bolster the system wide four-year completion rate for first-time freshmen to 40 percent from the current 19 percent by 2025. More than a third of entering CSU freshmen are found to need some remedial work.

Cal State Dominguez Hills serves a student body of 15,000, 75 percent of whom are Latino or black. Many are from low-income families, are first in their families to attend college and juggle school with jobs.

The campus has been a pioneer in moving toward the co-requisite model in both English and math. Most remedial students still must participate in a no-credit Early Start summer program that bolsters their academic skill. But over the past few years, the campus has been replacing the next levels of remedial math with credit-bearing co-requisites.

Results have been encouraging, officials say. However, as the spring algebra class showed, some students continue to fail.

Of the 960 incoming Dominguez Hills freshman placed in the remedial math track last summer, about 80 percent completed their remedial work and a co-requisite credit course in algebra or statistics in their first year. That compares to about 64 percent who finished remedial courses under the prior system without receiving credits, campus statistics show. Many who failed a co-requisite algebra or statistics class last fall retook it and passed in the spring, meeting a deadline to do so.

•••••

“It has definitely worked well for us. This is a lot better than where we were at before,” said math department chairman Matthew Jones.

Timing and tutoring are among the biggest differences between a bridge class and a traditional one.

For example, a traditional for-credit college algebra class usually meets three times a week for 50 minutes. In contrast, the co-requisite Tseggai attended met for an hour and ten minutes three times a week for instructor Cassondra Lochard’s lectures; in addition, students had an extra group hour weekly with a teaching assistant plus one-on-one tutoring. In contrast to regular classroom protocol, the teaching assistant circulated among the desks during lectures, softly giving advice and reviewing students’ calculations and algebra formulations.

Remedial students need the extra time, help and structure of a co-requisite class since many “lack the foundation” in algebra even if they received decent grades in it in high school, according to Lochard. Many students either forgot basics or did not pay attention in high school and feel the ideas “are brand new to them.” And if they do recall some concepts, “they mix them up in strange ways,” said Lochard, who is the campus coordinator for developmental, or remedial, math.

Just as important, she said, are work ethic and ability to complete assignments on deadline. Some freshmen have not yet mastered the demands and pace of college compared to high school’s more forgiving nature. “I think it’s more of a mentality change for them than an inability to acquire the skills,” she said.

While an increasing number of CSU campuses and California community colleges are starting or exploring co-requisite classes in math and English, several other states such as Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado have moved faster, experts say. Wider adoption across the country is likely over the next few years as state legislatures try to reduce spending on remediation and public colleges seek better graduation rates, said Chris Thorn, director of knowledge management at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching which is located in Stanford, Calif. “It is the writing on the wall,” he said of the spread of such bridge courses.

Early evidence shows those classes help more students complete remedial paths. But it is not clear yet how those students perform in subsequent math or science courses and whether graduation rates are improved, added Thorn, who has helped Carnegie develop its own alternative college math courses to speed remedial education. And, he added, co-requisites probably won’t help everyone: “It’s not a panacea.”

CSU students feel the pressure: they could be forced to leave the university if they don’t complete required remedial work within a year, including the chance to retake a class at a CSU or community college during summer if need be. Across the 23-campus CSU system, 13 percent of students in remedial courses were not allowed to return for a second year in 2016 because of such failures, according to a system report. Many others say they feel they wasted a year of time and a lot of money.

Two math tracks are available at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Students in the humanities, social sciences, and arts usually take statistics – and passing that class often fulfills their sole general education requirement in math. College algebra is the route for science, engineering and math students who likely need additional math classes such as pre-calculus.

In both tracks, co-requisite classes review more basic topics and push forward into new, college level material. Jones insists that the classes are not watered down and that the material and pass rates are similar to traditional algebra and statistics classes.

Lochard’s spring semester class had the ungainly name of “College Algebra with Intermediate Algebra Review.” She spent much time writing equations on the board, walking students through solutions and egging them on to discoveries in polynomials, quadratic equations, radicals and factoring. Besides a textbook, she assigned work from online platforms and her own supplemental material to keep the students “cycling” from review subjects to higher level work.

The course seems to have improved passing rates in subsequent math requirements for students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM courses, she said.

Her teaching assistant Muhammad Albayati, a sophomore, helped the algebra students too. A math and computer whiz who emigrated with his family from Iraq when he was 10 years old, Albayati was a supportive peer. While Lochard lectured or assigned exercises, students at times called out for “Muhammad” and he crouched over their work sheets and gave advice. He led a weekly study group without Lochard.

The students’ skills varied widely, but most need some emotional boosting to build their confidence, Albayati said. He and other peer tutors “provide understanding and acceptance. We show them we accept them for where they are.” He said co-requisite courses like this “give those borderline students the resources to pass the class….and a lot respond and will do whatever it takes to get through it.”

Still, some skip required study sessions and don’t turn in homework, he noted. Some “still have a high school mentality” and think they can “mess around and pass the class and that’s not the case in the university. The material is a lot harder and the professor does not have to take care of a student the way a high school teacher does,” said Albayati, who is transferring in the fall to UC Irvine to study video game design.

Many students in Lochard’s recent spring semester class were repeaters: they had failed a similar class in the fall and needed at least a C minus to pass. After some early drop-outs, 60 percent of those who remained passed. The record was better in the fall, when nearly 80 percent passed the co-requisite college algebra first time out and the rate was even higher for the statistics courses.

Raquel Herrera, a Dominguez Hills freshman, failed the spring class. She complained the course went by too fast yet also blamed herself for not completing some homework.

Facing a possible forced withdrawal from the university, she might have taken algebra in summer school. But she instead appealed, was found to have a learning disability and was given the chance to take a substitute course, likely in statistics, in the fall with more assistance.

Still, she said she resents the placement system that tested her without allowing calculators on forgotten material from high school. She remains “really annoyed” that her college education might have been ruined by one math course. “It’s not fair because I worked really hard to get where I am,” said Herrera, who is switching her major from biochemistry to liberal studies, with a goal of becoming a teacher.

In contrast, Aida Tseggai appreciates how Lochard and Albayati helped her and is proud she improved her grade as the semester went on. While she originally resented being placed in remedial math, she said she now views the system as “fair” and knows she received solid preparation for pre-calculus next spring.

“Mixing together remedial and regular algebra helped us get ahead,” she said.

Region sees spike in IEPs


In most local school districts, the number of students with Individualized Education Plans, or IEPs, has risen over the past decades, outpacing a smaller upward trend statewide.

This school year, 17.4 percent of Massachusetts students have IEPs — a personalized program for children determined to need special education services. The commonwealth’s percentage is consistently among the highest in the nation, though still well below 2016-17 numbers at some local school districts where more than over a fifth of students have IEPs.

In Fitchburg 23.5 percent of students have IEPs, up from 18.1 percent 10 years ago. In Leominster the number is 22 percent, up from 17.4 percent in the 2006-07 school year. Ayer Shirley and North Midddlesex school districts also came in just over the 20 percent mark this year.

The reasons for these increases are complex but relate to specifics of the student population, mental-health needs and differing district approaches, according to local officials and experts.

In some districts, like Leominster, the number of young students with mental-health needs has dramatically increased over the past roughly 15 years, according to Leominster Schools Special Education Director Ned Pratt.

“We’re getting more and more kids younger and younger who have severe mental-health issues,” he said. “I’m finishing my 35th year of education service. I’ve been a special ed director for over 20 years.

I’ve been an educational administrator for over 15. The acuity of needs, the level of sickness for so many of our younger kids in mental health is unbelievable.”

Some students on IEPs require only an in-class tutor, others benefit from a separate classroom environment, and some need to be placed outside of the district in other schools or residential facilities, he said.

The wide range of personalized solutions created through IEPs are reflective of the spectrum of student needs, from severe disabilities to ADHD diagnoses to language and physical disabilities.

“The IEP is really a bridge to allow students to access the general curriculum,” said Anne Howard, a professor of education at Fitchburg State University and board president of Boston nonprofit, Federation for Children with Special Needs.

According to Howard, the increase in student needs seen by Pratt is geographically widespread.

“You look at the number of kids with mental-health diagnoses, you look at the number of kids with autism diagnoses … it’s absolutely increased significantly,” she said.

Pratt has seen the incidents of students in first grade and lower being carried away from school in an ambulance for a mental-health issue increase from “once in a while” to commonplace, he said.

“Now you see it all the time,” he said.

Howard isn’t sure whether these increased numbers are a result of raised awareness, though changes in the environment and, for children with severe disabilities, improving neonatal medicine, could be contributors.

Pratt pegs the shift to concrete changes in behavior, not just awareness, he said. The opioid crisis may be affecting these young children, he contends.

Two other factors have likely driven up the percentage of IEPs in Leominster, he said.

The first is homelessness. Of the 6,047 students in the Leominster district, 288 are homeless, which Pratt said is above average. About 60 percent of these students have IEPs, he said.

The second may be an unexpected by-product of the campaign led by Mayor Dean Mazzarella and his daughter, Stephanie Madrigal, to make Leominster an autism friendly city, which Pratt said is a “great program.”

The effort hit local and national papers, bringing people to the city and school district.

“We had an influx of students coming into our district moving from not just the communities around us,” he said. “We had people from Tennessee. We had one family from Alaska who came to us specifically.”

In Fitchburg, Director of Pupil Services Roann Demanche said more students with IEPs moved into the district, particularly in the past year.

“Our classrooms for students with emotional impairment are full,” she said. 

Long term, Fitchburg has seen more group homes that house children under the custody of the Department of Children Families move into the area, she said.

Though not all children under the custody of the DCF have IEPs, it increases the probability she said.

While the guidelines for determining which students need IEPs and the options available are governed by federal law, how these guidelines are implemented from state to state and district to district vary, according to Howard.

“Massachusetts has had a history of really meeting the needs of students with disabilities in really a more extensive way than many states,” she said.

For example, the state mandates a faster timeline to make a finding than required by nationwide laws. State guidelines also vary from the national for children with autism, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Determining if a student needs an IEP is a multistep process, that consults teachers, district special education officials and parents or guardians, Pratt said. In some cases lawyers or advocates representing the parent, school principals and even the student are also involved in the decision-making process following a testing and evaluation period.

If the student is found to need special education, the team of decision-makers must determine what plan is “appropriate” and creates the “least restrictive environment” for the student.

The goal is to address the student’s needs while also keeping the student as involved in the school’s general population as possible, Pratt said.

Though most decisions are made in district without state intervention, the process follows specific nation and statewide guidelines, he said.

According to Howard, school funding, which varies widely from district to district, can have an impact on the programs available to students and how schools may use their resources.

“Some districts have a lot of supports to help that child (struggling in a subject),” she said. “Other districts don’t and when that’s the case, special ed is really the only game in town. So if you want a child to get more services you have to put them on an IEP.”

But this can cut both ways, with wealthier districts sometimes having more students with IEPs, because of greater parent advocacy and greater resources, according to Felicia Farron-Davis, an associate professor of education at Fitchburg State University.

“All I can say is follow the money,” she said.

In both Fitchburg and Leominster, Special Education made up 23.3 percent of the fiscal 2015 budget, according to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. The state average was 21.1 percent.

In Leominster, the special education budget totaled $16.8 million. In Fitchburg, it was $13.4 million.

Students on IEPs cost districts more on a per-person basis than students in the general population, Pratt said. How much depends on what type of services the student is receiving.

Students placed in separate classrooms can cost the district an additional 30 percent annually whereas residential placement can cost as much as 20 times a single general education student.

Demanche said the district pays a half-million dollars each for a handful of students in the district because of soaring private school placement prices.

According to Pratt, state funding reimburses some of these costs, but “antiquated” funding equations mean the Leominster district still spends more on these students than those in the general population.

When district budget cuts come, such as proposed cuts in Leominster, these high costs could mean trouble, because IEPs are legal documents, according to Pratt.

“If we don’t do as we promise we do with the parent signature on that, parents can sue us,” he said. “They can sue us in many different forms.”

For students with disabilities, special education is a resource, but not the only one, according to Demanche.

Schools can refer students to outside counseling services, such LUK or Community Health Link, according Demanche. Behavorial Concepts Inc., which opened on Authority Drive last year, also provides services for children with autism.

Students’ needs don’t stop when they leave school, Howard said.

“Kids are only in school six hours a day, and they have needs 24 hours,” she said.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @DobbinsSentinel.

BCC first in state to win gaming designation

FALL RIVER — Bristol Community College’s casino management program has blackjack tables, surveillance labs and now an official gaming school certification from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission. 

The commission said BCC is the first in the state to be awarded certification.

Official certification requires BCC to observe some regulations, such as offering courses on dealing games, CPR training and customer service. BCC’s new casino management program came about after the Expanded Gaming Act passed in Massachusetts, opening the door for more casinos in the state. 

The casino management program at BCC is part of the college’s larger CATCH Institute, which offers concentrations in culinary arts, tourism management, casino management and hotel management. Institute director John Caressimo said the opportunity for new jobs in Massachusetts spurred the creation of the gaming track for students. 

“It’s not as if these jobs were out there on the periphery and only now we’re coming to realize that we should be educating and training these people,” Caressimo said. “These are new jobs coming to the commonwealth, so we need to actually gear up and prepare these people for those jobs.” 

Casino management is a four-semester program at BCC where students complete general education courses and topic overviews on the four concentrations, and then choose to focus further on one. Students who choose casino management receive hands-on training at BCC’s Galleria Mall campus in Taunton, where the college operates a “casino lab” outfitted with four blackjack tables, two poker tables, a surveillance lab and more. 

“If you walk in the door, you would think you were in a small casino on a cruise ship,” Caressimo said. 

The certification comes as the state’s gaming industry is preparing to see a significant increase. 

Full-scale resort casinos are under construction in Springfield and Everett, while a third casino in Taunton that would be operated by the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, is facing a delay due to federal land in trust issues. Plainridge, a slots parlor, is already in operation in Plainville.

Additionally a casino is moving forward just over the Massachusetts border in Tiverton that will be operated by the same entity that runs the Twin River casino in Rhode Island. 

With the industry growing, the gaming commission’s Chairman Steve Crosby said the BCC program is an important piece of the puzzle. 

“Preparing a local workforce to meet the demand of casino hiring is central to maximizing economic opportunity and job creation in the Commonwealth,” said Crosby, in a statement. “It is exciting to note this milestone as we strive to achieve the Gaming Law’s intent of establishing a highly-skilled and diverse workforce for the state’s emergent gaming industry.”

The price of special education: As autism rates surge among children, so does the cost to educate them

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California colleges transform remedial courses to raise graduation rates



Before Aida Tseggai could major in biology at Cal State Dominguez Hills, she had to catch up in math.

She passed a non-credit remedial math class in the fall and then was offered a new pathway – a for-credit course in college-level algebra that provided extra class time, tutoring and review of more fundamental material.

Such combination classes – known as co-requisites, bridges or hybrids – are seen as a crucial tool to help hundreds of thousands of CSU students climb out of the remedial education hole in which some feel trapped. Part of a national reform movement, such courses also are aimed at helping students graduate faster.

“It saved me time and money,” said Tseggai.

Nervous at first about the spring co-requisite class, she wound up passing with a C grade. The combination of catch-up work and college level material, she said, was “very helpful. Like killing two birds with one stone.” Without that opportunity, her initial placement test results would have required her to take yet another non-credit remedial course.

CSU system administrators earlier this year said they want to turn all non-credit remedial classes into college-level credit bearing ones by 2018, with the co-requisite classes as the likely model. That move is an important part of the CSU campaign to bolster the system wide four-year completion rate for first-time freshmen to 40 percent from the current 19 percent by 2025. More than a third of entering CSU freshmen are found to need some remedial work.

Cal State Dominguez Hills serves a student body of 15,000, 75 percent of whom are Latino or black. Many are from low-income families, are first in their families to attend college and juggle school with jobs.

The campus has been a pioneer in moving toward the co-requisite model in both English and math. Most remedial students still must participate in a no-credit Early Start summer program that bolsters their academic skill. But over the past few years, the campus has been replacing the next levels of remedial math with credit-bearing co-requisites.

Results have been encouraging, officials say. However, as the spring algebra class showed, some students continue to fail.

Of the 960 incoming Dominguez Hills freshman placed in the remedial math track last summer, about 80 percent completed their remedial work and a co-requisite credit course in algebra or statistics in their first year. That compares to about 64 percent who finished remedial courses under the prior system without receiving credits, campus statistics show. Many who failed a co-requisite algebra or statistics class last fall retook it and passed in the spring, meeting a deadline to do so.

•••••

“It has definitely worked well for us. This is a lot better than where we were at before,” said math department chairman Matthew Jones.

Timing and tutoring are among the biggest differences between a bridge class and a traditional one.

For example, a traditional for-credit college algebra class usually meets three times a week for 50 minutes. In contrast, the co-requisite Tseggai attended met for an hour and ten minutes three times a week for instructor Cassondra Lochard’s lectures; in addition, students had an extra group hour weekly with a teaching assistant plus one-on-one tutoring. In contrast to regular classroom protocol, the teaching assistant circulated among the desks during lectures, softly giving advice and reviewing students’ calculations and algebra formulations.

Remedial students need the extra time, help and structure of a co-requisite class since many “lack the foundation” in algebra even if they received decent grades in it in high school, according to Lochard. Many students either forgot basics or did not pay attention in high school and feel the ideas “are brand new to them.” And if they do recall some concepts, “they mix them up in strange ways,” said Lochard, who is the campus coordinator for developmental, or remedial, math.

Just as important, she said, are work ethic and ability to complete assignments on deadline. Some freshmen have not yet mastered the demands and pace of college compared to high school’s more forgiving nature. “I think it’s more of a mentality change for them than an inability to acquire the skills,” she said.

While an increasing number of CSU campuses and California community colleges are starting or exploring co-requisite classes in math and English, several other states such as Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado have moved faster, experts say. Wider adoption across the country is likely over the next few years as state legislatures try to reduce spending on remediation and public colleges seek better graduation rates, said Chris Thorn, director of knowledge management at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching which is located in Stanford, Calif. “It is the writing on the wall,” he said of the spread of such bridge courses.

Early evidence shows those classes help more students complete remedial paths. But it is not clear yet how those students perform in subsequent math or science courses and whether graduation rates are improved, added Thorn, who has helped Carnegie develop its own alternative college math courses to speed remedial education. And, he added, co-requisites probably won’t help everyone: “It’s not a panacea.”

CSU students feel the pressure: they could be forced to leave the university if they don’t complete required remedial work within a year, including the chance to retake a class at a CSU or community college during summer if need be. Across the 23-campus CSU system, 13 percent of students in remedial courses were not allowed to return for a second year in 2016 because of such failures, according to a system report. Many others say they feel they wasted a year of time and a lot of money.

Two math tracks are available at Cal State Dominguez Hills. Students in the humanities, social sciences, and arts usually take statistics – and passing that class often fulfills their sole general education requirement in math. College algebra is the route for science, engineering and math students who likely need additional math classes such as pre-calculus.

In both tracks, co-requisite classes review more basic topics and push forward into new, college level material. Jones insists that the classes are not watered down and that the material and pass rates are similar to traditional algebra and statistics classes.

Lochard’s spring semester class had the ungainly name of “College Algebra with Intermediate Algebra Review.” She spent much time writing equations on the board, walking students through solutions and egging them on to discoveries in polynomials, quadratic equations, radicals and factoring. Besides a textbook, she assigned work from online platforms and her own supplemental material to keep the students “cycling” from review subjects to higher level work.

The course seems to have improved passing rates in subsequent math requirements for students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, the so-called STEM courses, she said.

Her teaching assistant Muhammad Albayati, a sophomore, helped the algebra students too. A math and computer whiz who emigrated with his family from Iraq when he was 10 years old, Albayati was a supportive peer. While Lochard lectured or assigned exercises, students at times called out for “Muhammad” and he crouched over their work sheets and gave advice. He led a weekly study group without Lochard.

The students’ skills varied widely, but most need some emotional boosting to build their confidence, Albayati said. He and other peer tutors “provide understanding and acceptance. We show them we accept them for where they are.” He said co-requisite courses like this “give those borderline students the resources to pass the class….and a lot respond and will do whatever it takes to get through it.”

Still, some skip required study sessions and don’t turn in homework, he noted. Some “still have a high school mentality” and think they can “mess around and pass the class and that’s not the case in the university. The material is a lot harder and the professor does not have to take care of a student the way a high school teacher does,” said Albayati, who is transferring in the fall to UC Irvine to study video game design.

Many students in Lochard’s recent spring semester class were repeaters: they had failed a similar class in the fall and needed at least a C minus to pass. After some early drop-outs, 60 percent of those who remained passed. The record was better in the fall, when nearly 80 percent passed the co-requisite college algebra first time out and the rate was even higher for the statistics courses.

Raquel Herrera, a Dominguez Hills freshman, failed the spring class. She complained the course went by too fast yet also blamed herself for not completing some homework.

Facing a possible forced withdrawal from the university, she might have taken algebra in summer school. But she instead appealed, was found to have a learning disability and was given the chance to take a substitute course, likely in statistics, in the fall with more assistance.

Still, she said she resents the placement system that tested her without allowing calculators on forgotten material from high school. She remains “really annoyed” that her college education might have been ruined by one math course. “It’s not fair because I worked really hard to get where I am,” said Herrera, who is switching her major from biochemistry to liberal studies, with a goal of becoming a teacher.

In contrast, Aida Tseggai appreciates how Lochard and Albayati helped her and is proud she improved her grade as the semester went on. While she originally resented being placed in remedial math, she said she now views the system as “fair” and knows she received solid preparation for pre-calculus next spring.

“Mixing together remedial and regular algebra helped us get ahead,” she said.

The price of special education: As autism rates surge among …

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Trump’s budget proposal takes chop at teacher training, could cost …

Document: Candice McQueen’s letter


Read Candice McQueen’s letter to the U.S. Department of Education about the proposed cuts to Title II funds

Title II funds received by school districts
in fiscal 2017:

Bledsoe County $84,266

Bradley County $264,755

Cleveland city $222,912

Coffee County $137,894

Franklin County $228,467

Grundy County $146,734

Hamilton County $1,854,179

Marion County $185,089

McMinn County $183, 333

Meigs County $84,995

Polk County $102,199

Rhea County $165,851

Sequatchie County $82,824

Source: Tennessee Department of Education

The budget
reductions

In total, $3.9 billion flows through the state from the federal government, according to the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth.

Numerous services would be cut under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, including:

Title I

Title I funds primarily serve schools that have a high number of low-income students. The funds would be held flat in the federal budget and $1 billion would be added and used, instead, for school choice programs.

Title II

The state received
$38 million from Title II for 2016-17 to help in development of teachers and district leaders, and educator recruitment and retention.

Title IV

The state expected to receive $8 million in 2017-18 in block grants for foreign language or magnet programs such as AP, IB and dual enrollment programs. The money also pays for student health and safety and the effective use of technology in schools.

21st Century
Community
Learning Centers

The after-school centers serve more than 30,000 Tennessee students and are intended to provide enrichment during nonschool hours, particularly for those in high-poverty areas. Tennessee received more than
$24 million in 2015-16 to serve 70 of the state’s 146 districts. Trump’s budget
would eliminate the program.

About $75,000 went to the state’s Achievement School District, which is tasked with turning around Tennessee’s lowest performing schools.

Individuals with
Disabilities Act funding

Money for the act and other special education programs would be held flat or cut, although the number of students needing services is projected to increase.

Career and Technical Education

The grant to the states would be reduced by about $45 million in Tennessee.

Source: The Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth via The Tennessean

 

Schools across the country are bracing for the impact of the Trump administration’s proposed education budget, and Tennessee’s top education officials worry its elimination of funding for teacher training threatens to slow student success.

The proposed budget cuts all Title II funding — $2.4 billion — designated for teacher support and training across the states. If Congress approves the budget, Tennessee stands to lose about $35 million in Title II funds.

“These are the only federal funds focused on teacher improvement and growth, and it is absolutely critical these are protected,” Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday. ” Our students have shown incredible growth over the last few years, and we will not continue to see that same success unless we fully support our educators.”

McQueen sent a letter June 13 urging U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to reconsider eliminating Title II funds, saying they are critical to students’ success.

Hamilton County Schools received $1.85 million in Title II money this year, and losing that money would be devastating, school officials said. Across the region, officials in smaller and rural districts worry that a significant share of funds for teacher development could vanish.

In the letter to DeVos, McQueen noted that teachers are the No. 1 in-school factor in improving student achievement. She wrote that “supporting our teachers and leaders from educator preparation programs, to the classroom, and through their careers is the only way to achieve success for all students.”

Tennessee’s 146 school districts use Title II funding to augment salaries for teachers in leadership roles, recruit quality teachers, provide training and support for educators and hire academic coaches, among other things.

If those federal dollars disappear in fiscal 2018, the costs will fall on local taxpayers or force cuts to already strained school budgets.

Jill Levine, chief academic officer for Hamilton County Schools, said the district depends on Title II dollars to foot the bill for most of its professional development and to pay for about a dozen positions across the system.

“Nobody is born a great teacher,” Levine said Friday. “People learn the art and the craft of teaching by being continual learners and being a part of continued development.”

The district has taken strides to bolster its professional development and teacher leadership opportunities in the last year, and school leaders believe it’s proving effective and helping teachers improve.

If Title II money disappears, Hamilton County Schools may not be able to offer the same opportunities in the coming year, Levine said, noting that other federal education funding also is shrinking and the county is not raising taxes to boost school funding this year.

“At this point, we’ve cut so much out of the district’s budget I don’t know what else we would cut,” she said.

McQueen said the same is true in rural districts, which typically don’t have a tax base or private money to turn to when federal dollars are lost.

“It is imperative that rural districts are successful in developing their local talent, because it is more challenging for them to recruit teachers from outside their community,” McQueen wrote.

Jason Bell, an executive board member of the Tennessee Rural Education Association, said the consequences of funding cuts for rural districts are often overlooked.

“Rural districts are already doing so much with so little,” he said. ” Anytime there is a cut, rural districts’ budgets are so small, it’s really significant.”

Bell, also the supervisor of secondary curriculum and assessment for Polk County Schools, said the district is going to face tough budget decisions if Title II funds disappear.

This year, Polk County Schools received about $102,000 in Title II dollars and used it for leadership training, teacher development and a hodgepodge of other supports for teachers, Bell said. Without that money, the district likely will have to choose between cutting most of its staff development or eliminating other things, he added.

“We are having to think about cutting more positions,” he said. “And we’ve already cut some positions.”

The U.S. Department of Education did not respond to McQueen’s letter or the Times Free Press’ request for comment.

But the Trump administration’s budget proposal states Title II funds are “poorly targeted and spread thinly across thousands of districts with scant evidence of impact.”

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Though it’s one of the single- largest line items cut, Title II funding isn’t the only thing on the chopping block this year. Overall, Trump’s budget proposes to cut education funding by about $9 billion — 13.5 percent.

Other cuts include college assistance for low-income students, mental health services in schools, art programs, language studies and anti-bullying activities.

The administration hopes to use some of the savings to boost school choice — its top priority — by about $400 million. Another $1 billion is being set aside to push public schools across the country to adopt choice-friendly policies.

But the education department’s largest expenditures in K-12 education — special education and Title I funds that support poor children — are unchanged from the first half of fiscal 2017. However, schools educating large shares of poor students are likely to receive less money because of a new law that allows states to take a percentage of Title I money for school improvement initiatives before distributing the funds to districts.

Hamilton County Schools expects to lose 13 percent of its Title I funding, from about $12.6 million to about $11 million. This change is the result of several national and state factors.

Along with federal education cuts, proposed changes to the way Medicaid is distributed could take away an estimated $4 billion in annual reimbursements to schools for services they provide to students with disabilities.

The administration’s budget proposal is far from finalized, and resistance is expected from Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers are fierce opponents of DeVos, are opposed to vouchers and want to protect their states’ education funding.

Tennessee has increased support of teachers by $100 million this year and by $300 million since 2015, and McQueen said the state absolutely believes these are the right investments.

“But we all have to come to the table to support our schools financially, and that is why the federal proposal is so concerning to us, particularly in the cuts it makes to Title II,” she said.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at krainwater@times freepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @kendi_and.

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