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Duluth NAACP's View: Taking funds from lower-achieving schools against spirit of law

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The Duluth school district's program to alleviate inequities in public education may be increasing those very inequities. It's a common problem that can happen inadvertently or intentionally.

Independent School District 709 receives compensatory-education funding from the state under statute to reduce the achievement gap between poor and rich students. The funding is allocated by counting how many students receive free or reduced-price lunches based on their families' incomes.The district has wide latitude to spend these funds as it sees fit. For example, the district could use them to provide supplemental or remedial instruction, staff development, student services, all-day kindergarten, or lower class sizes.

The district must, as I read the statute, allocate its comp-ed funds to the buildings where the children who generated the revenue are served. In other words, when students at Denfeld High School generate $735,862 in comp ed, that money should stay at Denfeld.

The statute has a caveat that a district can allocate up to half of its comp-ed dollars to other buildings, as long as the purpose remains to help meet the educational needs of children who need the support.

Two of our elementary schools don't even get their mandated half: Laura MacArthur and Myers-Wilkins, according to budget numbers provided by the district. Indeed, those two schools alone generate over $1.7 million, but the district sends about $900,000 of that to Congdon, Homecroft, and Lester Park elementary schools.

Congdon and Homecroft receive five times more comp-ed funding than they generate, and Lester Park receives 11 times more, the district's numbers indicate.

ISD 709 sends comp-ed funds from schools with lower overall achievement, reflecting their more disadvantaged student bodies, places like Laura MacArthur and Myers-Wilkins, to schools with higher overall achievement. While Congdon, Homecroft, and Lester Park have large achievement gaps, as measured by a comparison of the overall proficiency rate to the proficiency rate just for students who receive free or reduced-price lunches, that gap appears to be largely due to the higher overall achievement levels at those schools.

The clear intention of the comp-ed statute is to reduce socioeconomic inequity in student achievement, which, in Duluth as elsewhere, disproportionately affects students of color. Taking a large chunk of that funding from lower-achieving schools clearly goes against the spirit — and, perhaps in some cases, the letter — of the statute.

Audrey Devine Eller

Audrey Devine Eller is chairwoman of the Duluth NAACP's education policy committee.

Stephan WitherspoonStephan Witherspoon is president of the Duluth NAACP (duluthnaacp.org, which has additional information posted about compensatory-education funding).

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