SBE struggles to get SIG funding plan approved

In a fractured proceeding Tuesday, the California State Board of Education finally approved a funding plan for sharing nearly $415 million among the state's lowest performing schools.

The hearing, complicated by board members attending electronically from different parts of the state, threatened at one point to conclude without approval of the funding plan - a non-action that would not only delay again delivery of badly-needed money to nearly 200 schools for restructuring but could have jeopardized the entire federal award for this year.

Board members Ben Austin, executive director of a Los Angeles-based parent empowerment organization and Yvonne Chan head of a charter school in the San Fernando Valley - both strongly objected to providing the federal school improvement funds to poor performing charter schools.

The holdouts had to be urged to reconsider their position by the governor's undersecretary of the Office of the Secretary of Education, Kathy Gaither, who reminded both that by treating charter schools differently from other schools would risk losing the federal funds.

The struggle over the charter school improvement funds came after an announcement by officials at the California Department of Education that federal officials had tentatively approved a waiver request from the state board that would allow them to award all of the SIG funds this year and not hold back an otherwise required 25 percent reserve.

The waiver was key to overcoming what had been the state board's previous political dilemma created when an initial list of grant awards left out a number of large school districts. That dispute sidetracked the board at a meeting earlier this month and provoked a majority of the members to withhold their support for the funding plan.

In other action, the state board agreed to resubmit emergency regulations governing the parent trigger school restructuring to a state oversight agency. The board heard testimony from a near-equal number of supporters of the action and critics.

Those that favor the program told the board the program is needed to help turnaround failing schools. Those opposed questioned whether the board was properly using its authority to approve emergency regulations given that the oversight agency, the Office of Administrative Law, had rejected a prior version of the rules only a few weeks ago.

Finally, the board voted to pursue a waiver from a federal rule requiring that schools in program improvement provide parents with a notice of the school's status, two weeks before school starts.

CDE officials said the waiver is needed because California cannot formally declare which schools are in program improvement until October when graduation data will become available.

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