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Wondering what the heck San Diego Unified is doing with its federal stimulus funds for disadvantaged kids? The issue has died down since schools were pushed to come up with plans on using the money — but it isn’t dead. Deputy Superintendent Chuck Morris talked with a parent committee Wednesday night about some potential plans for an estimated $34 million that must be directed toward kids in poverty over the next two years. The list of ideas includes:

  • Giving all schools where 75 percent or more of students are living in poverty an additional $362 per student. Morris cast some doubt on this idea, saying that many of these schools are already receiving a lot of federal money for disadvantaged kids. “Pouring more money into those schools isn’t the answer to get those schools to the proficient level,” Morris said. The idea has been floated by board members who called it logical and fair. Price tag: $14.9 million to help 84 schools for a year.
  • Funding one of the plans created by the clusters of schools that lead into a single high school. The idea is identified in plans only as the “Cluster 3” proposal. “It’s probably too late for us to do that this year because it would have to be negotiated with the (teachers) union,” Morris said. Price tag: Unknown.
  • Providing preschools staffed by credentialed teachers for the whole day. Research backs this idea up, but the problem is that San Diego Unified would need to figure out how to fund it once the stimulus dollars disappeared. Price tag: Between $2.6 million for 15 schools and $5.16 million for 30 schools.
  • Keeping smaller classes of 15 students per teacher at 14 schools with low test scores. I wrote about this idea last week, when we visited Central Elementary to see the program. This would also help find jobs for the extra teachers that San Diego Unified is still stuck trying to place. But outside of numbers collected by the schools themselves, there isn’t a lot of data yet to justify whether the program is working. Price tag: $7 million for 14 schools.
  • Training school site councils and instructional teams in “school planning.” Morris said this money would go to a consultant for trainings. Several parents scoffed at the idea last night. Price tag: $4.5 million to assist 156 schools.
  • Deploying Web-based tools to help kids learn mathematics. I haven’t seen this one in action yet, but Morris said some schools are already using a tool that has been so popular that kids logged on from Mexico during a school vacation. Price tag: $2.5 million for 113 schools.

None of these have been approved. Morris said the school board would vote on the ideas this summer, potentially as soon as July 14. The ideas are supposed to meet federal goals of saving jobs, upping student achievement at struggling schools and providing sustainable reforms that don’t just end when the money disappears. School districts are also trying to prove that they are innovative in the hopes of snapping up competitive grants from the federal Department of Education in the future.

EMILY ALPERT

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