CHICAGO (AP)– The Illinois State Board of Education isn’t following a law requiring it to step in and make changes at schools stuck in academic failure, according to an audit released Thursday.
The board blames the finding on the federal No Child Left Behind Act and says it might seek relief through a change in state law.
By the end of the 2009-10 school year, 471 schools and 42 districts had been on the academic watch list for four to nine years, according to the report from the Illinois Office of the Auditor General. While the board took some remedial steps aimed at helping schools on the list for three or less years, it did nothing for schools on the list for longer periods.
“Not taking appropriate action against schools placed on the academic watch list may result in the continued underperformance of those Illinois schools,” auditors wrote.
The Board of Education said it doesn’t have money to address an ever-increasing number of schools that the federal law considers to be performing poorly, and may seek a change it state law to lower the number of schools it’s required to step in to help fix, spokesman Matt Vanover said.
Illinois law requires the Board of Education to take action when schools have been on the list more than three years, ranging from removing school board members and replacing staff to reassigning students to other schools.
“What we eventually said is we want to look at legislation to see if we can’t narrow the focus of this,” perhaps to only the lowest-performing 200 schools, he said.
But the audit’s findings drew an angry response from the vice chairman of the state House Elementary & Secondary Education Committee.
“It bothers me when I find these things out through an auditor’s report,” said Rep. Fred Crespo, a Democrat from Hoffman Estates. “We should have been concentrating on this a long time ago.”
The 2002 No Child Left Behind law was passed by Congress to hold schools accountable for students’ performance, relying heavily on standardized tests. All public school students are supposed to be academically proficient by 2014, with the target percentage of students that should be proficient raised most years.
According to the annual state report card released late last year, 1,999 schools – 51 percent – didn’t meet the current 77.5 percent target.
School systems in Illinois and around the country routinely complain that the law demanded action from schools but didn’t include money for implementation. Many hope for changes in the federal law.
About 90 percent of the Board of Education’s current $6.99 billion budget is being spent on day-today school expenses and state-mandated services such as busing and bilingual education, Vanover said.
Vanover said the Board of Education has asked for more money in the next state budget to help underperforming districts and schools, and after the audit period received about $146 million in one-time federal stimulus funds. But that money is only enough to work on a few dozen schools. The board on Thursday, for instance, took over the schools in East St. Louis. They’ve been on the watch list for four years.
If No Child Left Behind isn’t changed, Vanover said, the board will seek state legislation to limit its responsibilities under the law
Crespo said he’s willing to listen to the board’s ideas about limiting the schools it has to step in to help.
Rep. Roger Eddy, a member of the education committee who’s also superintendent of schools in Hutsonville, said crafting state legislation to ease the impact of a federal mandate might be tricky, but he’s sympathetic to the board’s argument that it can’t afford to live up to the federal law.
“The money never came with it,” the Republican said.
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