Schools face funding strain

Requirements challenge Highly Capable Program

— The state Legislature has mandated every school district develop a Highly Capable Program for accelerated students for the 2014-15 school year, and districts have encountered some bumps.

“After attending the HiCap workshop two weeks ago, I learned that the new state requirements are a bit vague as to the number of gifted students a district must identify and serve, which assessment tool(s) should be used for identification, and the amount of financial support that will be provided for the district,” said Denise Varner, Okanogan School District’s director of teaching and learning.

“It’s so unknown right now,” she said. “We really don’t have our plan yet. Okanogan is in a transition year.”

Highly capable students are defined by the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction as “students who perform or show potential for performing at significantly advanced academic levels when compared with others of their age, experiences, or environments.”

Because school officials have to learn the new requirements, decide how to serve students and track their progress – and in some cases figure out how to make all of that work on a small budget – the state has given school districts the rest of the year to work it out.

Pateros School District Superintendent Lois Davies said the new mandate is in line with the state Supreme Court’s ruling nearly two years ago that the Legislature must fully fund basic education.

“We’re really thankful that it’s part of general education,” she said.

In the past, Pateros has primarily spent its own money to provide additional services to students from kindergarten through 12th-grade who need more challenging opportunities, Davies said.

This year may not be any different, she said, since the state has provided Pateros with $99 in Highly Capable funding. The amount is so little, it isn’t included in a line item of the school district’s approved 2013-2014 budget.

“In the past, we could apply for a grant to get some very limited funding to help support highly capable learning,” she said, but it was “not enough for small schools like Pateros to create a program.”

Small rural schools like Pateros usually opt to provide services, since a fully developed program could cost between $25,000 and $40,000.

“And that would barely be getting your feet wet,” Davies said.

The amount each school receives each year is calculated as 2.314 percent of a school district’s full-time equivalent students, then multiplied by about $408, according to program Director Gayle Pauley with the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Districts can supplement their Highly Capable funding by using basic education dollars received from the state or a portion of maintenance and operations levies, Pauley said.

Highly Capable Program expenditures were shared by most school districts for this year on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s website.

Districts in Okanogan, Ferry and Douglas counties have estimated the following figures for 2013-14:

• Brewster –$8,640 for 20.83 full-time equivalent students

• Bridgeport – $6,500 for 17.82 students

• Curlew –$1,772

• Grand Coulee – $5,901 for 14.81 students

• Inchelium – $0 reported

• Keller – $0 reported

• Mansfield – $613 for 1.62 students

• Methow Valley — $5,431 this year in revenue, spending $8,902 for 12.59 students

• Nespelem – $1,151 for 3.01 students

• Okanogan – $8,891 for23.72 students

• Omak – $46,641 for 120.3 students

• Orient – $1,062 for 2.55 students

• Oroville – $5,500 for 13.33 students

• Pateros – $0 reported

• Republic – $0 reported

• Tonasket – $9,350 for 23.83 students

Curlew is currently implementing a program, but is not serving students yet.

Some of the ways districts can serve gifted students is by placing them in a higher-level core class, enroll them in Running Start for college credits, encourage them to join academic-based clubs such as Knowledge Bowl, and through a process called differentiation, Davies said.

“There’s a lot of ways to differentiate – offer other reading materials, other assignments that apply the learning in another context, have students create some kind of product,” she said. “To differentiate means that you’re really having the kid grow further, even if they’re already a top learner.”

The state funding received this year will be spent on creating an identification process for students who might benefit from Highly Capable programs, communicate with parents and support the staff who help provide services, Davies said.

Another new requirement that might be problematic is identifying all the Highly Capable students.

“Labeling kids isn’t always helpful when you can’t afford the programs to address it,” Davies said.

Varner said about two-thirds of Washington state school districts are in rural areas.

“This is a real shift for many districts, because some districts have not had programs for this level of students,” she said.

To help them out, regional Educational Service Districts are working on finding ways to meet students’ needs, possibly through creating consortiums of three or four small districts.

“We’re just looking at each one of our students and trying to figure out which are the best ways we can support them in our schools,” Varner said.

“This is a huge shift for our state to really recognize that within any student school population, there are students who need a significantly different kind of support for structure and opportunities. Generally, these kids are off the chart in understanding of content.”

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