Research sparked by anticipated, historic changes to federal funding
Anticipated and historic federal funding cuts and changing laws have caused concern among Elizabethton City Schools (ECS) administrators and members of the Board of Education. Following other efforts to mitigate the effects of these changes, the Board is researching options for rezoning elementary schools into Pre-K – 1, 2 – 3, and 4 – 5 schools.
“We understand that change is unsettling,” said Board Chair Rita Booher. “This is not a decision we will make without a great deal of research and studying all viable options. We want to be proactive during this time of budget cuts and will be transparent and communicate openly throughout this entire process. Please know, the driving factor in every decision the Board makes is the quality of your child’s education.”
How federal funding works; Elizabethton data
Federal funding allocations are based on the number of students in each school who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch – income eligible students. In May 2017, 40 percent of ECS elementary students were income eligible. If these students were distributed evenly between schools, each school would receive federal funding, but they are not evenly distributed. Based on current data, West Side Elementary School (WSE) no longer qualifies for federal funding – a first in about a decade, while East Side Elementary and Harold McCormick Elementary do.
Gardenhour said parents who qualify but do not complete the household income form may be a factor contributing to the nearly 30 percent decrease in income eligible students at WSE since 2015. This impacts funding for programs at all schools because ECS must now allocate more funding for programs at WSE, and any money spent at WSE must be equally spent at schools receiving federal funds. Restrictions associated with federal funding would ultimately take more money away from ESE and HME if WSE does not regain its funding.
Impact of funding cuts
The federal budget will pass on July 1. The current proposal includes a 15 percent cut to Title I funds, among many proposed cuts. This alone equates to a loss of about $85,000 at ECS and is significantly larger than the three to four percent cuts in recent years. In the last five years, these cuts have equated to approximately $250,000, while the number of programs in need of this funding has increased.
These cuts also forced ECS to cut two and a half positions at WSE. If the budget passes as proposed, WSE will lose $125,000 of its budget, and ESE and HME will each lose one full-time position. ECS administrators applied for a waiver for WSE to continue receiving funding, but it was denied. Other steps that have been taken to mitigate the impact of this lost funding include an enrollment enhancement campaign, cutting positions, applying for a federal grant, and researching rezoning.
Research into rezoning
Rezoning schools would allow each school to receive the same funding, which would ensure equal access to high-quality programs and staff. It would also allow general funds to be spent at one school as needed, without a requirement to spend the same at the other elementary schools. Some social and educational benefits of rezoning include consistency within a larger peer group, more differentiated instruction, increased collaboration among teachers and truly age-appropriate programming. The earliest this could take place would be the 2018-19 school year.
“We’re going to systematically look at every piece of the puzzle including quality of education, transportation, nutrition, and impact on schools, parents and the community,” said Dr. Gardenhour. “This is a difficult situation, and we are working hard to find the best solution for everyone.”