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A San Diego charter school is slated to get more than $10,000 per student for the next three years from federal grants to turn around struggling schools, more than any other school or district in the state, according to an analysis by a Sacramento consultant who calls the allocations unfair.

Earlier this summer, California awarded federal money to persistently struggling schools to help them turn themselves around. School districts and charters competed for the funding by writing applications explaining their schools’ reform plans, which ranged from increasing instructional time to replacing staff.

Stephen Rhoads, a lobbyist and consultant for Strategic Education Services, a Sacramento lobbying firm that works with school districts, argues that the money was divvied up inequitably, awarding far more money per student to some schools than others. King-Chavez Arts Academy, a charter school in Barrio Logan, is getting more than $10,000 per student annually, while other school districts got $1,000 per pupil or less, according to his analysis.

“That’s way out of line,” Rhoads said. “It’s really questionable that those funds are going to be spent well.”

The California Department of Education countered that the federal government barred it from distributing the money on a per-pupil basis. A letter from the U.S. Department of Education said states could not do so because it wouldn’t account for the actual cost of schools’ reform strategies.

“It was very clear that states could not award grants based on a per-pupil allocation,” said Deborah Sigman, deputy superintendent of curriculum, learning and accountability at the California Department of Education. “We asked that over and over again.”

Sigman said state education officials tried to control for school size by setting up three different categories of schools and adjusting grants for their size. But because some “small” schools are much smaller than others, the result was that some schools still got more money per student.

Tim Wolf, the chief executive officer of the King-Chavez schools, called the analysis “an oversimplification of this grant process.” The King-Chavez Arts Academy grant calls for a new teacher mentoring and credentialing program, new technology and community outreach.

“Our grant ultimately effects thousands of students and parents who directly or indirectly benefit,” Wolf wrote in an e-mail.

King-Chavez Arts Academy is one of three San Diego County schools that won grants for school turnarounds. The others are Felicita Elementary in Escondido and Burbank Elementary in San Diego. You can read the full analysis by Rhoads on how the money was divvied up here.

— EMILY ALPERT

Rob Davis

Rob Davis was formerly a senior reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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