Maryland’s waiver from a federal education mandate could put some Baltimore County students into what their parents call unfit schools.
The Baltimore County Public Schools system is debating whether or not to provide transportation for students partaking in the Title I transfer option, federal funding for which was cut when the state opted out of the No Child Left Behind Act in May. Title I schools receive additional federal funding to reduce the achievement gap because of high populations of low-income and at-risk students.
"This is something we’ll need to figure out quickly," said Charles Herndon, a school system spokesman.
The act afforded students at Title I schools across the country that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years the option to transfer to another school—designated by their respective school systems—that is meeting standards. Adequate Yearly Progress is a measurement under No Child Left Behind that mandates all students at every school score proficient levels in reading and math by 2014.
All Baltimore County students who applied for transfer were granted admission, provided they were officially enrolled at a designated struggling school and were not transferred to a different school because they were already accepted into a magnet program, he said. Based on those stipulations, of the 328 students who applied for the transfer option since its inception in 2010, only 15 were denied.
William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said that he suspects more counties will face this issue as the state moves away from the stipulations of No Child Left Behind.
"This will probably be something all counties are phasing out," he said.
Reinhard said a primary reason the state asked for the No Child Left Behind waiver is so it no longer has to abide by the Adequate Yearly Progress standard. Instead, the state is requiring every school to reduce the percentage of students who didn't pass standardized tests in half by 2017. These new target goals are called Annual Measurable Objectives.
"The standards [of No Child Left Behind] were just not realistic," he said.
A Difficult School Year
Charlene Oliver pulled her son from the Halstead Academy of Science and The Arts in Parkville—one of the sending schools in the transfer program—after his second grade year because she said he struggled to reach his "academic potential."
"That school year was difficult," said Oliver, a Parkville resident who works in the banking industry. "There were long-term substitutes. The entire class was recommended for summer school."
The boy had previously attended a private school, but enrolled in Halstead for the 2009-2010 school year after the Oliver family faced financial hardship following the 2008 economic collapse.
Oliver said she saw tremendous improvement in her son's school performance when she took advantage of the opportunity to transfer him—and later, her younger son—to the high-achieving Jacksonville Elementary School, a receiving school in Phoenix.
Receiving schools in Baltimore County are identified based on criteria including school improvement status, capacity and distance from sending school, Herndon said.
A school bus transported them from their home to the school each day, at no additional cost to the family.
"The first day at Jacksonville, we were so behind," Oliver said, adding that basic aspects of Baltimore County Public Schools curriculum were not taught at Halstead.
School System Mulls Transportation Decision
As a result of the waiver, Baltimore County Public Schools no longer accepts new students into the transfer program. The 218 currently enrolled locally will be able to stay at the receiving schools through graduation, according to the school system.
In a June 2012 letter sent to affected families, Roger Plunkett, who at the time was the assistant superintendent of the department of curriculum and instruction, strongly implied that a decision had already been made. Plunkett is now the executive director of student services.
"Since Title I can no longer support the costs of transportation, [Baltimore County Public Schools] will support transportation for one year (school year 2012-2013), as a transition year, from local revenues for existing participating students," Plunkett wrote in the letter. "This transitional year is intended to give parents sufficient time to make accommodations for the 2013-2014 school year and beyond."
The system is evaluating transportation options for transfer students beyond the 2012-2013 school year now that federal revenue sources have dried up. In the meantime, Baltimore County Public Schools is footing the bill.
The cost of transportation for the current school year is $719,400, and is being funded through the fiscal year 2012 school improvement fund and carryover funds, according to figures provided by the school system. The cost for the 2013-2014 school year is estimated to be $584,100.
Besides Halstead, Baltimore County listed the following as designated sending schools:
- Baltimore Highlands Elementary School
- Edmonson Heights Elementary School
- Featherbed Lane Elementary School
- Hawthorne Elementary School
- Hebbville Elementary School
- Lansdowne Middle School
- Middlesex Elementary School
- Riverview Elementary School
- White Oak Elementary School
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance said at a December 2012 Board of Education meeting that the discussion is ongoing, and a final determination will be made early next year.
'An Undue Burden'
Oliver, who works full time, said it would be impossible to continue sending her younger son to Jacksonville if transportation isn't provided. The older child, a fifth grade student, is expected to graduate this school year.
Jacksonville Elementary is approximately an 11.45-mile drive from Halstead. Oliver said that even with transportation, it is still about an hour-long trip to get her boys to school.
Other schools meeting standards that are closer to Halstead are currently over capacity, Herndon said.
"When I received that letter [from Plunkett], I thought it was a total injustice," Oliver said. "I have been involved in efforts to make Halstead better, but right now, it isn't an option."
Oliver isn't the only parent frustrated by the policy change.
Michelle Persad is a Parkville resident and single mother who works in downtown Baltimore for the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She has a son in third grade who also attends Jacksonville instead of Halstead through the transfer option.
"To abruptly pull him from his environment would be detrimental," she said. "He's always attended Jacksonville, it's his community. It's an undue burden."
Persad said her son currently performs above average in academics at Jacksonville. She is supportive of efforts to improve Halstead, but doesn’t feel comfortable sending her child there until tangible progress is made.
"I don’t want him to become a casualty in the process," she said.
Herndon said that even if the transfer students had to return to their home schools, their education needs would still be met.
"The superintendent has said that while no decision has been made, our expectation and goal is that every child receives a quality education regardless of which school they attend," he said.