During the CURRENT school year, the State has declared a revenue failure. We've gone through this before, and we'll get through it this time.
Here is what the State Department of Education is doing: They are allowing districts to use all funds, including Alt Ed funds -- this year only -- as they deem proper. The goal is to give districts maximum flexibility in the face of the budget cuts. Each district will still get their Alt Ed funds, but they won't have to code those dollars as being spent only on Alt Ed. They still are required to operate the Alt Ed programs. The same thing is happening to other funds such as Reading Sufficiency, remediation, etc.
So, to be clear, school districts are still required to keep their Alternative Education programs, and they are still required to meet the 17 criteria in law.
The real problem is what will be done after this year. We all know, from years of observing how schools operate, that a dedicated funding stream is the best way to ensure that districts operate effective Alt Ed programs. (If you want evidence of this, look around and see if you can find the programs dedicated to helping students with economic disadvantage. Hard to find, eh? Yet there is a weight in the funding formula designed to defray the cost of educating kids who come from tough economic backgrounds.) So, it's important to keep that funding stream intact, even if it's reduced (again!).
We know that next year will be hard -- probably harder than this year. So, here are a couple of things we can all do:
1. Work to keep Alt Ed as a separate funding stream, even if superintendents are permitted spending flexibility during the funding crisis. This is far better than moving Alt Ed into the general school funding formula.
2. OTAC will review its evaluation rubric to determine how it might be modified in response to the lack of funding for schools. We might consider things like adding space to explain program changes that were made because of funding shortfalls and reviewing the placement of specific criteria. If you have suggestions about changes to the rubric, please send them to us. We want to be fair to schools who are facing a real crisis but we also want to uphold standards that define effective programs. Perhaps renaming the columns would help? You can add your comments right here, by clicking on the Comment button for this article, or send your suggestions to your field coordinator or Dr. McKean.
3. Make sure that your legislators know what your program does, who it serves, and what kinds of outcomes are typical for your students. If your program is important to preventing and/or recovering dropouts in your community, this is not the time to hide your light under a bushel.
4. Look for the positives! There's going to be a lot of negativity coming at schools (yes, even more than usual), and paying attention to the positives is your best defense.
If you have any questions, contact one of us or Jennifer Wilkinson at the SDE.