Possible summer school cuts are worrying officials

Sunday, April 13, 2003

SIKESTON -- A Senate proposal to make another budget cut in education is worrying local school officials who could lose thousands of dollars in summer school funding.

Currently, each student attending summer school is counted twice when a district's average attendance is calculated for state funding purposes. On April 1, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed to eliminate the dual counting incentive.

Sikeston Public Schools will definitely be effected if the proposal passes because they could lose at least $405,000. Between 900 and 1,100 students attend summer school at Sikeston schools each year, noted Sikeston Public Schools Assistant Superintendent Paul Kitchen.

"Summer school is important in a lot of ways," Kitchen said. "A lot of parents look to summer school, especially for the elementary students. If the school has to cut back, parents might have to hire a babysitter for the summer and I'm not sure how well they'll like that."

In 1993, before the dual counting incentive was enacted, only 175 of the state's 524 public school districts offered summer school, and 75,542 students were enrolled. During 2002, 487 school districts offered summer school programs, and 278,455 students participated. In that same year, 890,195 students were enrolled in Missouri's public schools, according to the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education

Although Sikeston runs its own summer school, some school's, such as East Prairie R-2, hire Edison Schools to run their summer schools. Edison Schools is a for-profit company hired by districts to run summer school programs.

Edison offers students attendance incentives, including bicycles, video games, stereos and gift certificates -- a tactic also used by few public schools that ran their own summer school programs.

"It would obviously be detrimental to schools," agreed East Prairie Schools Superintendent Scott Downing about the bills. "It will have a huge impact on the community because parents rely a lot on summer school. It's an easy way and a safe place for their kids to be while they're at work."

Both Downing and Kitchen said it would be very difficult to run summer schools on a budget without the dual counting method. East Prairie Schools could lose as much as $55,000 while other area schools like Scott Central and Oran could lose more than $40,000. Kelly Public Schools Superintendent Don Moore estimated the Kelly District would lose as much as $120,000.

The double counting provides extra money for the more expensive summer programs, such as driver's education, Kitchen said. Driver's education is one of the most expensive summer school programs a district can have, but Sikeston has it because officials feel it's important, he explained. "We've always taken the extra funding from summer school and dumped it into the regular school year's funding," Kitchen said.

Traditionally intended for troublesome or chronically absent students, summer schools more recently have offered enrichment courses, particularly at the elementary level. Both East Prairie and Sikeston's summer schools offer enrichment and credit recovery courses.

Kitchen predicted if the Senate proposal passes, area schools will have to either eliminate summer school all together or scale way back. Instead of having five art classes or driver's education classes, the district would only have about three classes, he said.

The Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman proposed that eliminating the dual counting will save the state $91 million in the budget year that begins July 1. The House Budget Committee chairman also backs the idea. The reduction would begin in 2005 fiscal year, meaning no savings would be produced in next year's budget. The potential funding cuts are currently under consideration by the Senate Education Committee.

Although Kitchen knows the state has to make budget cuts, he said it doesn't make it any easier to think about how much schools will be impacted by Senate Bills 585 and 699.

"I understand that the state is looking for places to cut the budget," Kitchen said. "And maybe they've looked at all of their options -- at least I'd hope they have."

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