Accelify Blog

Lack of Funding Shrinking Summer School Programs (WA)

July 27, 2010

Sunny blue skies beckoned outside, but the soon-to-be first-graders locked their attention on summer school teacher Chester Farrell. He put on his Mickey Mouse wizard hat and waved his hand over a plastic straw. By the subtle force of static electricity, the straw moved slightly without a single touch.

The kids clapped and cheered, “Ooh la la!”

The trick was a grand finale to a morning filled with a different kind of magic. Farrell has five weeks to teach 20 native Spanish-speakers how to add numbers, solve story problems in math, count to 50 and other math skills first-graders need to know.

One of his students didn’t know how to count to 10 in English or Spanish until this summer, he said. For other students, summer school is the only routine they have in their lives.

“When they come back (to school), they’re more prepared, even behaviorally,” Farrell said. “They know how to sit in a group, they’re used to the school routine. They’re prepared to learn, and that in itself is huge.”

More than 200 students took classes at Lincoln Elementary School this summer. It’s the only free summer school program left in the Wenatchee School District since budget cuts began two years ago.

Around the region, summer school programs are getting scarce. Cascade, Chelan, Cashmere, Okanogan and a few other school districts have eliminated or scaled back their summer school offerings in the last six years.

For years, any Wenatchee student who needed extra help could enroll in summer school. When state funding changed, the district shut down the middle school summer program and limited the elementary summer school to migrant students because the only major source of funding the district had to pay for summer school was a federal migrant student grant.

The high school still offers online credit retrieval, but for a fee.

Summer school is an expensive program. It takes money to pay the teachers, run the buses and buy supplies — none of which are covered under the state’s basic education funding. In 2008, the last year of full summer school, the program cost the Wenatchee School District $155,700, about $270 per student. The district paid with half state funding and half federal migrant grant.

The following school year, state lawmakers faced the first major budget shortfall — about $9 billion. The state cut about $800 million from K-12 education for the 2009-10 year, including I-728, a state fund that districts often used for summer school.

Many school districts also pulled from other sources of funding to pay for summer school, such as Title I, a federal fund for high poverty schools and the state Learning Assistance Program. But when school budgets cinched tighter, those funds were needed elsewhere in many districts.

“It’s fallen to the wayside as another budget casualty,” said Douglas Poole, executive director for fiscal services at the North Central Educational Service District. Poole said most summer schools that still exist are funded with grant programs or local levy dollars. “It’s one of those things that’s not part of basic education funding, so unless you’re lucky enough to get a grant …”

The Eastmont School District runs summer schools at elementary, middle and high school. The federal grant that pays for the middle school program expires after this year. The program cost about $145,200, or about $345 per student, last year. All but $12,000 was covered by the grant.

Superintendent Garn Christensen said the district will pay the cost out of the district’s general funds next summer if it can’t find more grants. He said the district wanted to keep it a priority because it’s helping kids get ahead in math and reading. Students who attended more than three weeks showed a half-year of academic growth last year, according to end-of-summer reports.

“The reason for that is you have an extended period of time, non-interupted time, so they’re getting three hours of specific reading instruction or math,” said Chris Hall, principal at Sterling Intermediate School. He said summer school helps bonds kids to their teachers and school because it’s a more relaxed, small-group environment.

Eastmont’ s ummer school programs sometimes change from year to year depending on the type of funding that’s available, and the strings attached, Hall said.

“It’s been something that we’ve really felt strongly about, and when you feel strongly about a program, you look for ways to keep it in play,” he said.