School board member John Lee Evans is proposing that San Diego Unified stop and reexamine its plans before pulling federal money away from some schools to give more to the very poorest schools.

Evans says he wants to get more community input and give the school board a chance to reconsider before December, when the board decides how to split up the money for the following year.

If the school board bites at the idea, it will pause one of the most hotly debated plans in San Diego Unified. And it could open the door to reversing it entirely, backing off on a decision that has tugged at the dividing lines in the massive school district as money is pinched.

In December, the school board decided to gradually shift federal money for disadvantaged students away from schools with lower percentages of poor children — starting at 40 percent — and give it to schools where at least 75 percent of students get free or reduced price lunches.

The change would be phased in over five years. Though the highest poverty schools already get more money per pupil, it would concentrate money even more heavily on the most disadvantaged schools. No schools would lose their money next year, but dozens would eventually lose it in the future.

While the federal money is only a fraction of school funding, it can be enough to hire more staff or expand employee hours, a coveted resource as other funding is shrinking at school sites. The school board has been prodded to change its decisions by schools like Lewis Middle in Allied Garden, where roughly half of students are poor enough to get free or reduced price lunches. It got more than $100,000 in federal funds this year; in the future it would get nothing.

Backers of the plan counter that the money should be focused on the very poorest schools. The dollars “are designed to help underachieving schools and students — not serve as a vehicle for wealthier schools to drag just enough students away from poor communities to give them access to those dollars,” Democratic activist Pat Washington wrote in an email to Evans and school district employees.

The school board will vote on the proposal to put its plans on hold on Tuesday night. Evans abstained when the vote was taken in December because he didn’t think the school board had good information about how well the money was being used; the vote was 3-0 with Kevin Beiser 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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