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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

Few take better school option

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

A handful of families across the state applied to have their children sent to campuses that are doing a better job than their neighborhood school in meeting Hawai'i's math, reading and attendance goals.

Out of an estimated 48,000 eligible students, just 131 parents asked to have their children transfer to better- performing campuses under a new federal education law, according to preliminary estimates from the Department of Education.

Schools received 3,085 student applications for free outside tutoring, and 2,706 of those children qualified for that service.

The requests for transfers and tutoring are new options available to parents under the No Child Left Behind Act, a federal education law that mandates yearly improvement in the nation's high-poverty schools.

Nearly 48,000 of Hawai'i's 183,000 public schoolchildren attend the 82 schools that did not meet the state's academic goals last year.

Educators had suspected that many parents might wait until next year to apply for services because the parent-choice program is new and untested.

"Parents are sitting it out," said Elaine Takenaka, special programs management specialist at the DOE. "We don't have a deluge."

Children at the 82 campuses considered failing had until Sept. 30 to ask for transfers to better-performing campuses or request private tutoring at the state's expense. State officials had suspected that more students would take advantage of the tutoring option than the transfer, but couldn't be sure until this week.

The 379 students who applied for tutoring but did not qualify for it mostly fell off of the list because of their family income, said Greg Knudsen, DOE spokesman. Students have to come from low-income families to qualify for the state-paid tutoring, under the law.

When 45 percent of a school's enrollment receives free- or reduced-price lunch, the school gets federal money to improve learning. In turn, the schools are expected to demonstrate annual progress in meeting academic standards and other school quality measures.

Hawai'i had 127 high-poverty schools last year.

When necessary, the lowest-performing children who are also poor have the top priority to change schools or receive tutoring. The state has about $6 million to spend on the efforts.

The 131 transfer requests and the 2,706 students qualifying for tutoring are estimates, but the DOE doesn't think those numbers will change dramatically.

"It gives us an idea of what to expect," Knudsen said. "It's not overwhelming. It's manageable."

Parents will be notified by Oct. 15 whether their child has been approved for a school transfer or tutoring. Students will switch schools Oct. 28, the first day of the second quarter of the school year under the state's traditional calendar.

The DOE is finalizing contracts with tutoring providers across the state and plans to release a list of choices to families in the next few weeks.

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.