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Originally posted July 9, 2012
Area school districts trying to save summer learning programs
BY KIM ARCHER Tulsa World Staff Writer
(Reprinted with Permission. This is not an endorsement.)
While budget pressures are forcing public school districts throughout the nation to reduce summer learning programs, many Tulsa-area districts are saving those programs by charging tuition or getting grants to fund them.
Summer school programs have long been considered vital for students who are struggling academically, and Oklahoma's emerging high-stakes testing environment has made them even more critical.
"Research studies suggest that children lose ground over the summer months, some falling as much as three months behind in one summer," said Bonnie Rogers, former teacher and communications director at Jenks Public Schools.
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. summer learning programs reduced services last summer due to budget cuts, according to "Uncertain Times," a national survey released recently by the Afterschool Alliance.
Half of those programs likely will see increased student enrollment this summer, the survey shows. Around 80 percent of the after-school programs surveyed offer summer learning programs, surveyors said.
But in the Tulsa area, some school districts have found ways to keep summer programs going.
"Union has actually been increasing summer learning programs in recent years," said Todd Nelson, director of student achievement at Union Public Schools. "Whether the program is designed to help students grow as readers, pass specific exams or prepare to earn a major scholarship, it supports Union's primary goals of 100 percent graduation and 100 percent college and career ready."
Some area districts, like Union, use a variety of funding streams, including state remediation funds, public or private grants and tuition.
Tulsa Public Schools was able to offer its first district-wide free summer school this year because Tulsa is a national training site for Teach for America.
The New York-based national nonprofit organization recruits and trains new college graduates to become effective teachers under the close supervision of veteran educators. In exchange, graduates commit to teach for two years in low-income urban or rural public schools.
There is no cost to parents for summer school because of national and local supporters of Teach for America.
Jenks Public Schools hasn't cut back on summer programs, but the district would like to do more to meet the needs of their students, Rogers said.
"The majority of our programs are tuition-based, with Community Education subsidizing the costs for those students who qualify for reduced tuition or free attendance due to family income levels," she said.
Summer programs offered by school districts range from elementary school reading and math classes to secondary school courses targeted at passing specific tests, such as end-of-instruction tests.
Third-grade reading programs and EOI courses are more critical since the state Legislature passed laws requiring third-graders to pass a reading test to move to fourth grade and high-school seniors to pass four of seven EOI tests to graduate.
For the past few summers, Sand Springs Public Schools has provided Project Summer Spirit summer school for elementary students through a 21st Century federal grant, Superintendent Lloyd Snow said.
But if the grant isn't extended because of diminishing federal funds, next summer could be the program's last, he said.
"Some time back, we had to begin charging our secondary students for any summer school classes that had sufficient school enrollment," Snow said.
The exception is the district's end-of-instruction test boot camps, which he said have been "extraordinarily successful."
However, funding next year for EOI and third-grade reading remediation is tentative. Last month, the state Board of education cut EOI remediation funds by $1 million and eliminated funding for reading sufficiency programs.
Not every area school district has been able to maintain the needed summer programs, particularly in some of the smaller districts.
In Catoosa, several summer programs have been cut in recent years because of budget pressures, said Debbie Thompson, director of special services.
These programs are necessary "to provide supplemental reading and math programs for students who have not made the expected progress and met benchmarks throughout the school year," she said.