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Federal funding uncertain for school programs

Kanawha County school officials are optimistic the federal government will fund several much-relied-upon programs.

But they won't know for sure until after the deadline to submit personnel information to the state.

Head Start, special education and free and reduced-price lunch funding could be cut this fiscal year or the next, program administrators told the board.

Title I funding - federal money for schools with large percentages of low-income students - is also in danger. So are Title II and Title III programs for recruiting and retaining teachers and operating the English as a Second Language program.

The difference in deadlines for personnel information and federal funding will affect more than 100 employees between the Head Start and Title I programs alone, administrators said.

Jane Roberts, assistant superintendent for elementary education, said the Head Start program is generally funded on a three-year grant cycle. Because of problems with federal funding, the county had to apply for the grant again this year.

If the county doesn't receive the grant, it would mean more than 50 teachers, service personnel and other Head Start employees could lose their jobs, she said.

"We have every hope that our grant is going to be funded. However, there is a possibility that it's not," Roberts said. "And given the personnel timelines that we have, if we don't . . . let them know there is the possibility that those positions could be reduced, then we could be way over our allotted positions."

Counties receive funding for employees based on student enrollment under the formula the state uses to allocate funds. If the employees were no longer federally funded, it would affect that number.

The county would move those employees to a status called "transfer," and Roberts acknowledged it could cause some stress and anxiety for employees and their families.

Title I teachers face the same problem, said Pam Padon, director of the program for Kanawha County. Pending federal budget determinations and the potential implementation of new Title I standards at the state level could mean putting about 100 teachers on "transfer" status, Padon said.

Superintendent Ron Duerring has frequently bemoaned the burden that changes in Medicaid funding will put on counties. Sandy Boggs, head of the special education program, explained the effects.  

In the past, counties could be reimbursed through Medicaid for the cost of creating Individualized Education Plans for students with special needs. The state Department of Health and Human Resources and officials at the federal level decided the program no longer would be eligible for reimbursement, Boggs said.

That will be a $2.3 million funding cut for Kanawha County, Boggs said.

Federal funding changes also would limit the professional development, parent assistants and materials needed for special education programs. The program faces perpetual state-level funding issues, particularly when it comes to court-ordered placement of students in out-of-state programs.

Right now, courts can order that a student must go to out-of-state treatment facilities if services are not provided locally. County school systems have to pay for those students, Boggs said. At a cost of roughly $18,800 per student and with seven students in such facilities this year, that consumes $131,600 of state-provided special education funding for the county, she said.

Leah Sparks, director of technology for the county, discussed issues with the free and reduced-price lunch program. (Money saved through the program frequently goes toward technology improvement projects.) Right now, every elementary school student receives free breakfast and lunch, and some middle schools receive free meals for all students as well.

However, not all of those students actually qualify for the program, Sparks said. Program coordinators at the national level are trying to determine the best way to count those students for funding purposes, she said. The money won't change this year, but the program could be drastically affected in the future, she said.

This was the second budget forecasting discussion Duerring has called for in recent board meetings. The county will have a tough time funding existing programs with expenses going up and no increases in revenue, Duerring said.

In May Kanawha County voters voted to renew the school system's excess levy on property, but it includes a flat cap on revenue the system can collect over the next five years.  

Duerring said there could be personnel and program cuts in the near future if additional revenue or other budget changes aren't identified.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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