Sunday, February 8, 2009

It's All About the Benjamins - Grant $$ Trumps Socio-economic Inequities

Nearly a year. Countless meetings. Formation of a "Diversity Task Force". Wait...that was voted on...but did that ever really happen?

Oh the board TALKED a good game about the need to balance socio-economic diversity. In fact...wasn't that one of THE major issues in the Boundary Wars fiasco? How the board wanted to balance the number of free/reduced price lunch students among its schools so that no one (or two) schools had a disproportionate number of socio-economically challenged kids?

All that seems to have gone up in smoke as the Education & Policy Committee approved/forwarded the "21st Century Community Learning Centers" grant proposal to the full school board for this Monday, February 9,009. That's talks and balancing diversity can take a walk.

We'd give you the link...but this wonderful new $50K BoardDocs program really doesn't facilitate such a thing. Hmmmm. So all we can tell you is to check out the agenda item via BoardDocs, "21st Century Community Learning Center Grant ". It's under the "Consent Items" portion of the agenda.

We'd encourage you to have your voice heard on the know...fill out one of those (now) infamous yellow cards that double as a "Miracle Ear" so that the secretary can hear what you say. know what...the topic appears under "Consent Items", which means the board votes unanimously to approve everything contained under that heading. So likely, you needn't waste precious time. You should probably read to or talk with your kids instead. The chances that any school board member has sufficient spinal structural integrity to request that this grant be pulled out of "Consent Items" and discussed seriously is about as likely as the economy rebounding completely tomorrow.

If you're a glutton for is the key information form the Situation Report:

Rick Mueller, Westside Elementary Principal, submitted this grant application in partnership with the YMCA of Dane County, requesting $99,900 to establish a Community Learning Center at Westside Elementary during the 2009-2010 school year. Westside is the only school currently eligible to apply for this grant based on the present level of economically disadvantaged students (43%).The project would include:

  • Before and after school care for students in K-5 including startup costs
  • Academic interventions after school in reading and math
  • Nutrition and fitness activities
  • Lessons in personal care
  • ATODA lessons
  • Addition of assistive technology at Westside
  • Expansion of the Watchdogs volunteer program
  • Monthly service learning projects
  • Financial literacy activities
  • Opportunities to spend time with volunteers
  • Parenting classes for parents
  • Financial literacy classes for parents
  • Evening computer lab access for parents and students
  • Professional development for Westside faculty and staff
  • Transportation assistance to guarantee equal access for economically disadvantaged
The purpose of this grant is to close achievement gaps amongst Westside students and to provide learning opportunities for parents and caregivers that support and strengthen families.

Read the grant requirements from DPI
Grantees completing a five-year cycle of funding may apply for a continuation grant for a maximum of three additional years. Budgets for continuation grants should be based upon $75,000 in year one, and $50,000 each in years two and three. Note that several sections of the application ask specific questions of applicants eligible for a three-year continuation grant.

What is the length of the grant period?
The DPI intends to make grant awards for five years to successful applicants who demonstrate satisfactory progress. Annual grant awards will be made dependent upon availability of funds. For grantees who have demonstrated success during their five-year cycle of funding, continuation grants will be awarded to successful applicants for a three-year cycle.

MAKE NO MISTAKE--We think applying for grants is a wonderful thing. Certainly, the projected uses of the grant funding all go towards excellent educational objectives. You can't argue against the benefits for Westside students, and we commend Mr. Mueller for looking into this. On the other hand, we have to balance the idea of THIS one grant with the understanding that committing to this grant means that Westside's percentage of free/reduced price lunch-eligible kids cannot drop below 40% during the 5-year grant cycle. The current level is 43%. It does not take much influx or efflux of students to drop that level below 40%. And then we'd be scrambling to justify continued funding using some other rationale. More to the point, what happened to the board's commitment to balancing the per-school socio-economic percentages district-wide? Guess what? This means the board is not going to ANYTHING to address the socio-economic least not at Westside.

SP-EYE's take - Well...the grant only lasts 5 years---with significant reduction in funding each year. Maybe in 5 years the board will re-consider dealing with the socio-economic diversity in our schools. Can't you just hear that loon Howie Mandel asking: The banker is offering $100,000 if you'll forget about balancing diversity and keep Westside Elementary at a level of least 40% free/reduced price lunch-eligible kids. DEAL? or NO DEAL? Does it seem inherently wrong to WANT to keep the number of free/reduced price lunch eligible kids at at least 40% of the total Westside enrollment? Anyone?