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Ed funds not for use to help SD26 transfers

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Under the act, signed by President George W. Bush, children from failing schools are allowed to transfer to any school with a better record that has room for them. District 26 has the highest test scores in the city and has attracted a number of such students, said David Pinzon, co-president of the Parent Teacher Association at MS 172 in Floral Park.

District 26 covers schools in Bayside, Little Neck, Douglaston, Glen Oaks, Floral Park and parts of Fresh Meadows, Auburndale and Queens Village.

Pinzon said his school received 31 students under the act last year, and MS 67 in Little Neck took in 67. He said the schools welcomed the newcomers, but the students required more resources than those already enrolled and therefore cost the schools more.

Congress appropriated $200 million for city education, and Pinzon and other district PTA presidents thought some of the money would go to help them with their No Child Left Behind students.

Instead, Pinzon said he and his co-presidents were told several weeks ago by the city Department of Education that the money could only be used for Title I schools, where a certain percentage of the student body qualifies for free federal lunches based on family income,

District 26 has no such schools, and Pinzon contacted City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) and state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) to get the department to change its stance.

The department did not return calls seeking comment but told Weprin's office it had no choice in the matter because of the way the funds were appropriated by Congress.

"It should just go directly to schools where the kids are transferring to," Weprin said. He said the lack of funding appeared to be an inadvertent oversight and he has contacted U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) and U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside) to investigate the apparent inequity.

"It seems like that wasn't the intention of the law," Weprin said of the burden MS 172 and MS 67 have faced.

Meeks's office said it was looking into the matter but the wording of previous appropriations could not be changed. In order for School District 26 to qualify for Title I funds, the standard for poverty would have to be lowered, and it was unclear who had the authority to do so.

A spokeswoman for Meeks said the congressman would consider District 26's plight in the next round of appropriations, but the real problem was that the No Child Left Behind Act was poorly worded and underfunded by Bush.

She claimed Bush's budget left Title I funding short $7.2 billion this year and the No Child short $9.4 billion.

In a related matter, Pinzon said a new school in District 26, PS/IS 266 on the Glen Oaks Campus, had not received any No Child Left Behind students despite previous assurances by the Department of Education that 10 percent of its seats would be set aside for such transfers.

At the same time, many high-performing students from MS 172, where Pinzon heads the PTA, had themselves switched to PS/IS 266, because the students there receive priority placement in the new High School for Teaching next door. Students at MS 172 are zoned for Martin Van Buren High School, which is perceived poorly.

The departing high performers left slots open for No Child Left Behind students, which would not otherwise have been free.

Suzanne Windland, PTA president at PS/IS 266, said the school had received some of the transfers but was not sure of the exact number. She said the decision governing which student goes where rests with the Department of Education.

"It's not the school that says I'll take this amount or that amount." She said changes had been made to the lottery system for school admissions so that the number accepted from any one school in the district would be capped for each class.

Windland also criticized the No Child Left Behind Act, saying that it led to students' traveling long distances from home, then not receiving the funding they deserved and finally bringing down the test scores of their new home school.

"I don't understand who's winning here."

Pinzon said lower scores were the start of a slippery slope toward mediocrity.

"As the school starts to suffer, then the community suffers."

Reach reporter Michael Morton by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by calling 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

Updated 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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