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February 10, 2013

Federal funding helps English learners

Cuts may be coming in March

Whitfield County school officials are hopeful recent economic growth will be enough to keep members of Congress from slashing an already tight education budget if automatic spending cuts hit the federal budget this March.

Lori Calhoun, director of federal programs for Whitfield County Schools, is particularly worried about cuts to Title I funding, a federal provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.

“Title I is based on poverty ranking of schools and that figure comes from Free and Reduced food applications submitted in our district,” said Calhoun. “Title I is distributed to schools based on the poverty of students in their schools, but is not limited and can be used on struggling students.”

School system officials reported 9,578 students, or 72 percent of a student population of 13,301, are in the Free or Reduced Lunch Program as of Oct. 2, 2012. That’s an increase from 9,218, or 69 percent, in the 2011-2012 school year. The number of students currently in the program is not known because data on the program is only reported once a year, said spokesman Eric Beavers.

“Trends can be derived from year to year, (but the number of students in the program) has increased every year since at least 1995,” he said.

A budget summary from the school system last week said $3.8 million of Title I funding was given to county schools for fiscal year 2012. With a total of 861 students, North Whitfield Middle School receives the most Title I funding at $201,500. With 346 students, Tunnel Hill Elementary School receives the least amount at $61,181.

More than $1.6 million goes towards instruction, which includes contracted tutors and additional teacher salaries to reduce the student-teacher ratio in classrooms, said school officials. Another $596,867 goes towards professional learning (training for teachers), while $56,373 goes towards parent involvement, defined as funding used to increase the “participation of parents in regular, two-way and meaningful communication involving student academic learning and other school activities.”

“We have a community-driven Literacy Collaborative and Title I helps fund that and helps us focus on getting at-risk students acquiring reading skills,” Calhoun said. “That’s an intrinsic need for all school subjects. If you’re not literate and you can’t read on grade level, then you can’t learn math; you can’t learn social studies.”

Representatives from the Dalton City Council, Dalton Public Schools, the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce, Whitfield County Schools and the Whitfield Board of Commissioners collectively put $1.5 million to fund the Literacy Collaborative in hopes of enhancing reading opportunities and bringing in reading coaches. Title I also helps fund the collaborative to train teachers to accelerate learning.

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