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In a deeply controversial move, San Diego Unified voted tonight to concentrate more of its federal money for disadvantaged students on the highest poverty schools at the expense of less poor ones — but not right away.

Right now, San Diego Unified gives $23 million in federal funds to schools where at least 40 percent of the students qualify for free meals. San Diego Unified splits the eligible schools up into three tiers based on their poverty level and gives the poorest schools more money for each disadvantaged student.

The only change that will happen next year is that schools would get their per-student funding on a sliding scale, instead of being divided into three categories that get different amounts per student.

But there will be big changes over the next five years, when San Diego Unified will shift to devoting all of those funds to schools where 75 percent or more of students qualify for free lunches, cutting funds to lower poverty schools. It will create a transition plan by next June to slowly shift the funds. If poverty levels stay about the same, more than 70 schools would stop getting any funds under the new plan.

Backers of the plan believe that focusing the federal money on the poorest schools will do more to close the achievement gap, saying that the school district has “diluted the funds.” Opponents counter that the change would strip funding for poor children who go to somewhat better off schools.

Changing how the dollars are divvied up is sensitive. The last time that San Diego Unified considered changing it, parents and educators at schools that would lose out protested and the school board backed off on its plans. Richard Barrera and John Lee Evans, who had supported the switch, changed their minds. Yet it was Barrera who brought this idea back, this time pledging to make the change slowly.

David Page, who leads a parent committee on disadvantaged students, told the school board that his group did not back the change and wanted the status quo. He complained that the idea had never been vetted with his committee, arguing that the school district had violated its own rules.

Barrera, Scott Barnett and Shelia Jackson voted for the plan to shift more money to the highest poverty schools; Evans abstained and Kevin Beiser was absent.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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