Parents with children enrolled at several East Baton Rouge Parish public schools that recently earned F grades from the Louisiana Department of Education have yet to hear whether they will have the option of transferring to other, higher-performing schools in the parish.
Domoine Rutledge, the attorney for the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, said the school system has held off informing parents about school choice options while it cleared up a financial dispute.
The question was whether the federal government, through its Title 1 anti-poverty program, would continue to pay for the transportation of children who choose to transfer out of the lowest-performing schools, Rutledge said.
The school system, which recently enacted $28 million in budget cuts for the 2012-2013 school year, is trying to avoid spending money from its general operating budget for this expense, he said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Rutledge said he received some written guidance from Joan Hunt, a state Department of Education attorney, that appears to clear up the issue. He said he will discuss the issue with Superintendent Bernard Taylor and parents will be notified about decision soon.
In an email, which Rutledge provided to The Advocate, Hunt relays a conversation she had earlier in the day with two administrators in the U.S. Department of Education in which they say Louisiana public schools have the flexibility to continue to use Title 1 money to pay for school choice.
School choice is a key remedy outlined in the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law for parents of students attending low-performing schools.
Last week, the state Department of Education released a list of 180 schools that have F grades, 20 of them run by the East Baton Rouge Parish school system.
These F grade schools have school performance scores of less than 75 — the bar was 65 a year ago — with 200 being the top possible score. The scores are calculated mostly based on standardized test results.
The No Child Left Behind law has expired, and Congress has yet to agree on a replacement.
The U.S. Department of Education, under President Barack Obama, in recent months has given states, including Louisiana, waivers from some aspects of the federal law.
For instance, the lowest-performing public schools no longer have to offer parents private tutoring services, described under the law as supplemental educational services. The federal agency also is giving states relief from offering school choice.
In its letter approving Louisiana’s waiver, the U.S. Department of Education said that local school districts in the state “will no longer be required by federal law to offer SES or public school choice.”
In a subsequent directive to school districts, the state Department of Education said something different. It said that school districts “must offer school choice,” but are no longer limited to using only 15 percent of their federal Title 1 budgets to cover the cost.
Rutledge, however, said he has been concerned that the federal government will deny the use of Title 1 money for school choice, saying such spending could constitute “supplanting.” That’s when a local or state government uses federal money to supplant nonfederal money, something barred by federal Title 1 rules.
Hunt in her Tuesday email, however, said the two federal officials she spoke to assured her that Louisiana school districts can continue to use Title 1 money for school choice.