Federal Grant Cuts Jeopardize School Programs

NEWARK – Worcester public school officials learned this week the county is receiving more than $1.2 million less in federal grants than anticipated in the current fiscal year, placing several key programs in jeopardy.

Board of Education officials learned in late July the local system would be receiving about one third as much in certain federal grants than expected this year. On Tuesday, school officials found out a little more about the programs that could be affected by the cuts.

“We found out in July the cuts in federal funding for several programs were coming, but we didn’t completely understand the magnitude of the cuts until we got some of the final numbers,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes. “The federal government provides money to the state and we apply to the state for grants for some of our key programs.”

In fiscal year 2010, Worcester County received a little over $3.5 million in federal grant money passed through the state, but the amount of funding has been reduced to about $2.3 million in the current fiscal year, representing a 34-percent decrease. The grants are divided into 10 general categories for various programs, the funding for seven of which have been completely eliminated. Two of the other categories were reduced significantly, while one actually saw a slight increase.

One of the biggest casualties was the 21st Century High Schools grant, which provides funding for after school and summer school programs at Snow Hill and Pocomoke High Schools. After receiving roughly $374,000 in federal pass-through grants for the programs last year, the funding was completely eliminated in the current cycle.

Another significant loss was funding for the special education Transitions Program, which helps young adults and high school-age students become working, productive members of the community. Last year, the program received a little over $259,000 in federal grant money, but the local school system will not receive any funding for the program this year.

“That’s an important program for our students with special needs,” said Andes. “Through the program, teachers act as job coaches to find placements for our high school-age special education students. We place them at different businesses in the community and they work and earn money and become productive members of society.”

Special education programs in general were hit particularly hard with the cuts in federal grant funding. For example, the federal grant for high school assessments (HSAs) for special education students, which provides funding for HSA interventions for students with disabilities at Stephen Decatur, Snow Hill and Pocomoke High Schools, was completely eliminated. Last year, Worcester received $349,000 in federal grants for the program.

Similarly, a $130,000 grant for a program for emotionally disabled special education students was also eliminated.

Other total losses include about $60,000 in federal technology grants for the schools, along with a $26,500 grant for safe and drug-free schools, both of which were eliminated. Federal funding for the English Language Learners (ELL) program was reduced by about a third, while the largest federal grant, a Title I grant for schools with a high percentage of students living in households of poverty was reduced only slightly, from $1.634 million to $1.618 million. The only federal grant increased in the current cycle is the Title IIA grant used to improve teacher quality, which was increased by about $4,000.

Andes said the school board was scrambling somewhat to make up the losses, but held out hope some federal funding from a different source could be utilized.

“We anticipate getting some money from the federal jobs bill that passed in August, but it’s uncertain at this point just how much that might be,” he said. “These programs are highly successful and we are actively seeking ways to continue them. Once we see how much we’re getting from the jobs bill, we’ll make a determination and identify what we need to cut.”

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