Seeking space for student transfers

State scrambles to find more room for children from failing schools

August 07, 2002|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

State school officials are scrambling to find room for more of the hundreds of Baltimore City and Prince George's County children who want to transfer this fall from failing public schools.

Baltimore received 347 applications from 30,000 children eligible for transfer under the new federal No Child Left Behind Act. The district scheduled a lottery tomorrow to fill 194 seats it says are open this fall in better schools.

About 700 of the 6,000 eligible students in Prince George's applied, but the district found room for only 100.

"We're not interested in being confrontational," said Ronald A. Peiffer, assistant state superintendent. "Both the state and the districts are interested in opening up more slots. We've had meetings with both Prince George's and Baltimore, and we think we can work it out to everyone's satisfaction."

With three weeks until schools open in Prince George's and four in Baltimore, hundreds of parents still don't know where their children will go to school, and the situation is complicated by the opening of nine new schools in Prince George's.

"We're working feverishly to solve all of the problems," said schools chief Iris T. Metts.

The new federal act, signed into law by President Bush in January, requires the districts to pay for transportation of the students transferring to higher-performing schools. And children left behind must receive supplemental services such as tutoring and after-school instruction, with the highest priority given to children most at risk of failure.

The 700 applications in Prince George's stand in sharp contrast to other districts in Maryland. Only 92 of 1,347 eligible Baltimore County students wanted to move to a better school, and 77 of 2,478 eligible children signed up in Anne Arundel County.

Eligible children are in schools with two consecutive years of poor performance, and Prince George's and Baltimore lead the state in the number of schools placed on the state's failure list, known as "reconstitution eligible."

Peiffer also said the state is working with Howard and Montgomery officials to solve problems with their transfer plans. Both paired failing schools with nearby better-performing schools, but the new law says parents must have a choice of more than one school.

Patti Caplan, a spokeswoman for Howard schools, said she believes the two districts will be allowed to proceed with plans as announced for the 2002-2003 school year and make necessary alterations for the next year.

Bush used strong language when he signed the No Child Left Behind bill, but there has been a torrent of criticism over the way urban systems such as Baltimore, Chicago and Memphis, Tenn., have handled the transfer provisions.

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