Denying Transportation Could Place Transfer Students in Academic Bind

Baltimore County Public Schools is considering cutting transportation for a program that moves students out of struggling schools.

Maryland’s waiver from a federal education mandate could put some Baltimore County students into what their parents call unfit schools.

The Baltimore County Public Schools system is debating whether or not to provide transportation for students partaking in the Title I transfer option, federal funding for which was cut when the state opted out of the No Child Left Behind Act in May. Title I schools receive additional federal funding to reduce the achievement gap because of high populations of low-income and at-risk students.

"This is something we’ll need to figure out quickly," said Charles Herndon, a school system spokesman.

The act afforded students at Title I schools across the country that failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress for two consecutive years the option to transfer to another school—designated by their respective school systems—that is meeting standards. Adequate Yearly Progress is a measurement under No Child Left Behind that mandates all students at every school score proficient levels in reading and math by 2014.  

All Baltimore County students who applied for transfer were granted admission, provided they were officially enrolled at a designated struggling school and were not transferred to a different school because they were already accepted into a magnet program, he said. Based on those stipulations, of the 328 students who applied for the transfer option since its inception in 2010, only 15 were denied.

William Reinhard, a spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said that he suspects more counties will face this issue as the state moves away from the stipulations of No Child Left Behind.

"This will probably be something all counties are phasing out," he said.

Reinhard said a primary reason the state asked for the No Child Left Behind waiver is so it no longer has to abide by the Adequate Yearly Progress standard. Instead, the state is requiring every school to reduce the percentage of students who didn't pass standardized tests in half by 2017. These new target goals are called Annual Measurable Objectives.

"The standards [of No Child Left Behind] were just not realistic," he said.

A Difficult School Year

Charlene Oliver pulled her son from the Halstead Academy of Science and The Arts in Parkville—one of the sending schools in the transfer program—after his second grade year because she said he struggled to reach his "academic potential."

"That school year was difficult," said Oliver, a Parkville resident who works in the banking industry. "There were long-term substitutes. The entire class was recommended for summer school."

The boy had previously attended a private school, but enrolled in Halstead for the 2009-2010 school year after the Oliver family faced financial hardship following the 2008 economic collapse.

Oliver said she saw tremendous improvement in her son's school performance when she took advantage of the opportunity to transfer him—and later, her younger son—to the high-achieving Jacksonville Elementary School, a receiving school in Phoenix.

Receiving schools in Baltimore County are identified based on criteria including school improvement status, capacity and distance from sending school, Herndon said.

A school bus transported them from their home to the school each day, at no additional cost to the family.

"The first day at Jacksonville, we were so behind," Oliver said, adding that basic aspects of Baltimore County Public Schools curriculum were not taught at Halstead.

School System Mulls Transportation Decision

As a result of the waiver, Baltimore County Public Schools no longer accepts new students into the transfer program. The 218 currently enrolled locally will be able to stay at the receiving schools through graduation, according to the school system.

In a June 2012 letter sent to affected families, Roger Plunkett, who at the time was the assistant superintendent of the department of curriculum and instruction, strongly implied that a decision had already been made. Plunkett is now the executive director of student services.

"Since Title I can no longer support the costs of transportation, [Baltimore County Public Schools] will support transportation for one year (school year 2012-2013), as a transition year, from local revenues for existing participating students," Plunkett wrote in the letter. "This transitional year is intended to give parents sufficient time to make accommodations for the 2013-2014 school year and beyond."

The system is evaluating transportation options for transfer students beyond the 2012-2013 school year now that federal revenue sources have dried up. In the meantime, Baltimore County Public Schools is footing the bill. 

The cost of transportation for the current school year is $719,400, and is being funded through the fiscal year 2012 school improvement fund and carryover funds, according to figures provided by the school system. The cost for the 2013-2014 school year is estimated to be $584,100.

Besides Halstead, Baltimore County listed the following as designated sending schools:

  • Baltimore Highlands Elementary School
  • Edmonson Heights Elementary School
  • Featherbed Lane Elementary School
  • Hawthorne Elementary School
  • Hebbville Elementary School
  • Lansdowne Middle School
  • Middlesex Elementary School
  • Riverview Elementary School
  • White Oak Elementary School

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent S. Dallas Dance said at a December 2012 Board of Education meeting that the discussion is ongoing, and a final determination will be made early next year.

'An Undue Burden'

Oliver, who works full time, said it would be impossible to continue sending her younger son to Jacksonville if transportation isn't provided. The older child, a fifth grade student, is expected to graduate this school year.

Jacksonville Elementary is approximately an 11.45-mile drive from Halstead. Oliver said that even with transportation, it is still about an hour-long trip to get her boys to school.

Other schools meeting standards that are closer to Halstead are currently over capacity, Herndon said.

"When I received that letter [from Plunkett], I thought it was a total injustice," Oliver said. "I have been involved in efforts to make Halstead better, but right now, it isn't an option."

Oliver isn't the only parent frustrated by the policy change.

Michelle Persad is a Parkville resident and single mother who works in downtown Baltimore for the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. She has a son in third grade who also attends Jacksonville instead of Halstead through the transfer option.

"To abruptly pull him from his environment would be detrimental," she said. "He's always attended Jacksonville, it's his community. It's an undue burden."

Persad said her son currently performs above average in academics at Jacksonville. She is supportive of efforts to improve Halstead, but doesn’t feel comfortable sending her child there until tangible progress is made.

"I don’t want him to become a casualty in the process," she said.

Herndon said that even if the transfer students had to return to their home schools, their education needs would still be met.

"The superintendent has said that while no decision has been made, our expectation and goal is that every child receives a quality education regardless of which school they attend," he said.

sgor January 18, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Paul-------ny suggestion would have me barred from responding----no it isn't RACIAL
Liz January 18, 2013 at 09:39 PM
White Oak School should not be included. It is a level 5 Special Education school and the school's population is not consistant from year to year. This school wants its students to be suscessful to they can return to a less restrictive school enviroment.
James January 19, 2013 at 07:00 PM
Some of these comments are unbelievable. So the solution to the problem is to spend a lot of money to avoid fixing the root cause, which are failing schools? Straight socialism it is? Anyone should be able to go to school anywhere for any reason, at any cost, out of fairness? If they're going to be bused 1-2 hours from their home each way, why not bus them to Howard County for that matter? Or Montgomery? Wouldn't that be more fair? Jacksonville or Sparks are not much closer in traffic from areas like Halstead than Ellicott City or Columbia. "Spreading the problems" is not a workable solution either. Ever wonder why so many kids in the Towson/Lutherville area go to private school? It's not because their parents enjoy paying 10k in tuition per kid per year. Too many transfer or title-1 or section 8 kids will destroy a school and turn it bad. Go look at the data on a school like Pot Spring if you don't understand what I mean. It used to be like Jacksonville, and now it's 2/3 of the way to being a Halstead. Almost 2/3 of the kids there are on FARMS. Anyone concerned about their kid sent them to private school. All the middle schools in the county are a disaster at this point too. Same reason.
Lily January 22, 2013 at 03:31 PM
To be honest, I don't know how you help the failing schools. We would first need to find out exactly why they are failing. The problem is that if your kid isn't going to a failing school then you are not going to put the effort into pushing BCPS into finding that out and there are two few parents in failing schools who have the knowledge, understanding, will, etc to do the activism necessary. Every wonder why Towson parents get everything they want but other areas don't? It's because the parents are mobilized. The poor don't mobilize partly because they have no idea the immensity of the disparity between the school they go to and some of the other schools. If there are children causing problems in schools then we need a way to deal with that but if it's a case of teachers not teaching (I know some teachers I'd like to fire) Then we need a way to deal with that as well.
Lily January 22, 2013 at 04:14 PM
@Spring Heeled Jack The title 1 transfer option was mandated by the federal government if federal funds where taken. MD took federal funds. So any school that failed to meet AYP for three consecutive years had to offer all of it's students special transfer options to schools selected by BCPS that met certain criteria. What's amazing to me is how few students actually took advantage of that given the number that could have. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that many of the parents who are poor may have transportation issues and don't want to be that far away from their child because if they have to be picked up for some reason they don't have a way to do that. I don't think the school system wanted that many kids to take advantage of the transfer option. Basically what it comes down to is if you are poor... you are backed into a corner and societal conditions are likely to keep you there even if you are motivated. This I know from experience. I brought up the part about the FARM kids not because I think they are the cause of the problem but to point out the correlation and the need for study as to the cause. It's not the kids though because when you take these kids and send them to a school that is not failing they do well. But as soon as you concentrate them in one school the school suffers. Why?


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