Education Officials Threaten to Cut Montana Funds

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Federal education officials are warning that Montana must get in line with its No Child Left Behind benchmarks by Aug. 15 or risk losing some of its funding.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent Montana education superintendent Denise Juneau a letter on July 1, followed by a formal notice, saying the state is out of compliance with its requirements for determining Montana schools’ adequate yearly progress for the 2010-11 school year.

The written notice says the state has until Aug. 15 to comply with the annual measurable objectives or the Education Department could withhold Montana’s Title I, Part A funds.

Juneau said Friday she wants clarification as to whether the funding cuts would come from administrative or classroom programs, and how much would be cut, before deciding what to do.

In April, Juneau requested a waiver from complying with the annual measurable objectives. She says it’s unfair for schools to have to adhere to an outdated education program left over from the Bush administration while the Obama administration is creating its own priorities.

“We’re sort of in this corner where we’ve gone through the process, we’ve met our timelines, and at the 11th hour they’re talking about sanctions,” Juneau said. “We’re still having to adhere to an old law that everybody in the department admits is broken and having to follow these new priorities of the department.”

Carlos Martinez, the Department of Education’s group leader for standards and assessment, said the department is working with Juneau and he believes the matter will be resolved.

In the “remote possibility” that funding is withheld from the state, it would out of the administrative portion from the state’s Title 1 allocation, which is a small percentage of the total funding, he said.

Montana has been allocated nearly $44.6 million in Title 1, Part A funds this year.

According to a description of Title I funds on the department’s website, schools use the money to provide academic support to help low-achieving children meet the standards, such as through extra instruction in reading and mathematics or preschool, after-school and summer programs.

The No Child Left Behind law requires that 100 percent of school children are proficient in reading and math by 2014. The annual measurable objectives chart schools’ yearly progress toward that goal.

For the next school year, 92 percent of Montana school children are supposed to be proficient in reading while 84 percent are supposed to be proficient in math.

This past year, the state’s students rated 83 percent proficient in English and 68 percent in math, Juneau said.

If the state complies and uses the No Child Left Behind benchmarks for the coming year, that means more than 100 more Montana schools will fail to meet their goals for adequate yearly progress, Juneau said.

Out of the 821 public schools in the state, 255 are not making adequate yearly progress, she said. If the state complied with the new benchmarks of 92 percent proficiency in English and 84 percent proficiency in math, the number of failing schools would jump to 383.

Martinez said the Education Department and Juneau are close to an agreement that would modify those benchmarks, lowering them to a yet-undefined point while keeping the overall goal of 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

They are “looking at how they can set up a trajectory that will allow them to be within regulations and still have that constant march toward improvement,” Martinez said.

Juneau has proposed the state adopt by 2014 new standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers instead of the No Child Left Behind benchmarks. She called the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Math higher, clearer and more rigorous than current standards.

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