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NCLB Demands Causes Milwaukee to Change Its Summer Plans
Demands of federal law force district to cut its offerings: Thousands of Milwaukee students will get a longer summer vacation than usual, but so far no one is rejoicing.
Money woes and the proscriptions of a new federal law prompted Milwaukee Public Schools officials to cut most summer school programs. Board members were notified of the decision Friday.
Many families who have relied on summer school to give their kids a more structured vacation and academic help are out of luck this year.
"We will be serving less children, and that is upsetting to me," said MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos.
The district will proceed with a slimmed-down offering: courses for high school students, many of whom need the credits to graduate, and classes for special-education students.
Gone will be all of the traditional programs for elementary and middle school students. Last summer, close to 17,000 students attended a monthlong summer school; this year, only about 5,000 will be able to do so.
Andrekopoulos said the district's hands were tied by the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal law that mandates more standardized testing and sanctions for schools whose scores do not improve.
The $10 million that the district would spend on summer school is going toward new efforts required by the law, said Andrekopoulos. The district also faces a $41 million budget shortfall for next school year.
"The law has restricted our flexibility in using Title I money," he said. Title I is a federal program that gives money to districts with low-income students.
No Child Left Behind requires MPS to provide what are called "supplemental services" - after-school tutoring, for instance - to struggling students attending 28 MPS schools with low test scores.
It also requires that the district allow parents the option of transferring their students out of schools deemed "in need of improvement" by the state. A chunk of Title I money will be reserved to pay transportation costs for children whose parents request transfers next fall.
All told, MPS needs to set aside at least $11 million of its projected $55 million Title I allotment to pay for supplemental services and potential student transfer costs. Most of the Title I money, about $30 million, goes directly to schools for use at their discretion.
State officials said MPS is the only district feeling this pinch related to Title I funds so far, since the majority of the schools on the "in need of improvement" list are in the city.
Since the School Board does not control the allocation of Title I money, the administration's decision to end summer school this year is final.
Parents are already bemoaning the loss.
"I think it is a big mistake if they cut it," said Patricia Powell, parent coordinator at Wisconsin Avenue Elementary School. "There is really a safety issue if kids have nowhere to go, and I think we are going to see a lot of kids roaming the neighborhood."
Powell's niece, a kindergartner, attended summer school at Wisconsin Avenue last year. And Powell's two 14-year-old sons, both alumni of the program, have volunteered there for the past couple of years.
Last year, MPS offered summer school five days a week for four weeks during July.
Students in the lower grades typically had classes in the morning and a recreational activity in the afternoons.
"It provides both enrichment and also intervention for kids who are behind," said Laverne Lund, summer school coordinator.
She is concerned about the loss because MPS students now take many standardized tests in the fall and won't have the academic refresher offered by summer school.
"I think it is really important for families to stay active and have their kids read a lot of books, visit public libraries and look at different options for recreation."
The MPS Division of Recreation will still offer summer enrichment programs, which cost money, but offers discounts for low-income families. And some MPS schools will continue serving breakfast and lunch to students throughout the summer.
The district stopped summer school between 1991 and 1997 because of financial problems, but had offered it for the last five years.
Andrekopoulos said he hopes the district will not have to spend all of the $11 million set aside for No Child Left Behind initiatives, and will therefore be able to resume summer programs in 2004.
At the Wisconsin Avenue School, officials kept summer school going even during the hiatus of the '90s, using money from their own budget. Some of their students will still be able to attend classes this summer, since the school is one of the 28 whose test scores qualify it for the "supplemental services," which can include summer programs.
But in the past, the school had invited kids from across the city to attend its summer program.
"A lot of kids and parents will be disappointed," said Principal Glen Burk.
MPS Trims Summer School
March 3, 2003
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