Few seek a new school

Transfers allowed under No Child Left Behind Act

In city, only 194 spots open

In 4 counties, 244 apply out of 6,800 eligible pupils

July 14, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The federal government's plan to ease the way for families to move their children out of poorly performing public schools is likely to have little impact across the Baltimore region, with only a tiny fraction of eligible students expected to transfer.

Roughly 6,800 students in four suburban counties are eligible, but only 244 transfers have been requested, a survey of school officials shows.

In Baltimore, more than 30,000 students are eligible, but school officials have set aside only 194 places for possible transfers - a number denounced as inadequate by Michael Hamilton, president of the city's Council of PTAs. How many Baltimore parents will seek transfers for their children is unknown.

State school officials haven't determined how many students are seeking transfers across Maryland but they see no signs of an exodus this fall.

"From what we understand, it's fairly small," said Bill Reinhard, a spokesman with the state Department of Education.

Maryland has 118 low-income schools with test scores poor enough to participate in the transfer program established in the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by President Bush this year.

Under that law, school districts receiving federal money must allow parents to transfer their children from low-performing schools to schools scoring higher in standardized achievement tests. Local school systems also must pay for buses to carry the transferring students.

School officials suggest several reasons for the low participation in Baltimore's suburbs.

Parents might want to keep their children in neighborhood schools. Or they might recognize that transferring could mean missing out on the extra funding and resources available at poorly performing schools.

Moreover, many officials believe that the small number of transfer applications shows that parents are not so dissatisfied with public schools and will stick with a struggling school if it shows signs of improvement.

Howard County had 62 applications for transfers from six schools: Bryant Woods, Phelps Luck, Guilford, Dasher Green, Swansfield and Talbott Springs elementary schools. More than 2,000 Howard students were eligible.

The small number of applicants is "encouraging," said Ray Ellen Levene, Howard's Title I coordinator. "And what's interesting to me is that the schools that are starting to improve, they only had two or three students" apply.

The trend was similar across the region.

In Baltimore County, 92 out of 1,347 eligible pupils asked to be moved from Powhatan and Winfield elementary schools and Woodlawn Middle School.

In Anne Arundel, 77 applied for transfers from Freetown, Georgetown East, Harman, Tyler Heights and Van Bokkelen elementary schools - and 2,478 were eligible.

Thirteen children in Harford County asked to leave Hall's Cross Roads and Magnolia elementary schools - although nearly 1,000 were eligible.

No Carroll County schools have been struggling long enough to be covered by the law. But state officials say scores from the coming year's tests could push two schools - Robert Moton Elementary and Taneytown Elementary - over the edge if there's no improvement.

Area school systems are trying to determine the cost of the student transfers.

Under the new law, schools must set aside 15 percent of their federal Title I funding to provide transferring students with transportation.

Financial effects

Principals don't expect student departures to have a negative effect, although some Title I funds could be diverted from programs and staffing.

Harford County schoolchildren will probably take a bus to their home school, and a shuttle bus from there, a plan that won't have much impact on the home school's funding, said spokesman Don Morrison.

Earl Slacum, principal of Columbia's Swansfield Elementary School, doesn't expect an impact because none of the 11 children who applied for transfers from his school received free- or reduced-price lunch - meaning they weren't benefiting from Title I money.

In fact, 42 percent of the Howard County students who sought transfers were neither low-income nor low-performing - the very groups targeted by the new law. School officials say parents are seeking transfers for reasons other than academics.

"I guess these are just parents who are looking to open-enroll their kids, parents who are looking at putting them in a different environmental setting," school board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt said. "It's not because the schools aren't providing them their needs."

In Baltimore County, officials haven't analyzed applications to say whether the lowest-income or poorest-performing students are taking advantage of the law.

Kimberley West, president of Powhatan Elementary's PTA, said the parents who requested transfers from Powhatan were involved with the school and were often the parents of better-performing pupils.

"These are the parents always looking for the best opportunities for their children," West said. Some would have sought transfers even without the new law, she added.

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