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State officials order Buffalo district to honor transfer requests for students stuck in failing schools

Jun 12, 2013 by

BUFFALO, N.Y. – The vast majority of Buffalo public school students will soon have new and better educational options, due to a recent state ruling that will force school officials to accommodate their transfer requests.

State education officials last week ruled the Buffalo school district is “not in compliance” with federal public school choice laws, and ordered the district to do something about it.

The action came after parents failed in repeated attempts to have their children transferred from failing schools.

President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind education law requires public schools to grant requested student transfers from failing public schools, with few exceptions.

Samuel Radford III, president of Buffalo School District Parent Coordinating Council, has urged parents to request transfers to better schools under the federal law, but district officials denied many requests, citing a lack of capacity at schools in good standing.

In the 2012-13 school year, 95 students – including nearly all high school applicants – were denied transfers because of a “lack of seat availability,” school records show.

“We had been encouraging parents to move their children out of failing schools,” Radford told EAGnews. “Federal law says you can’t use lack of capacity as an excuse to deny a transfer.

“The reality is parents are discouraged because if they apply for the transfer the district would deny them.”

Next year, 45 out of 50 Buffalo public schools will be considered failing, and all students who attend  them could technically qualify for a transfer. That’s 27,000 out of the district’s 32,000 students, Radford said.

If enough of them request transfers, charter schools, private schools or out-of-district schools would have to become options. Buffalo school officials, obviously eager to keep per-pupil state funds in the district, clearly ignored those options in the past, but won’t be allowed to in the future.

Persistence pays off


Samuel Radford III

Samuel Radford III

Radford first attempted to address the issue three years ago, but said school officials largely ignored his complaints. He sent a letter to the New York State Education Department the following year, and he said it went unanswered.

In November 2012 Radford filed a formal complaint with the State Education Department, and after months without a response, he employed the help of Congressman Brian Higgins, who sent a letter to the department requesting an answer.

On May 29, state education officials sent a ruling to Buffalo schools superintendent Pamela Brown.

While President Barack Obama granted the state of New York a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind regulations, the letter said “New York State continues to require (Public School Choice) under … the Commissioner’s regulations, which does not include lack of capacity as an acceptable reason to deny students the option to transfer under the PSC program.”

The state demanded that the district prepare a “corrective action plan” to detail how school officials plan to come into compliance with the federal transfer regulations. It’s due June 30.

There are several options for the district to consider, Radford said.

District officials could transfer students to district schools in good standing, pay public dollars to send students to charter or private schools, transfer students to schools in neighboring districts, or close certain Buffalo schools and reopen them as charter schools, he said.

“There are no failing schools in New York outside of urban districts,” Radford said. “All of these are options. Our goal is to do a campaign and let all parents know they have a right to move their children.”

Public awareness about the right to transfer is sorely lacking.

The Buffalo News reports less than 3 percent of parents with children eligible for transfers have requested to be moved over the last six years. Of the 502 students who applied in 2012-13, 165 were ultimately granted a transfer.

Radford said most families denied a transfer fell into two categories: nearly all high school students were denied because of a lack of seat availability, he said, while English language learners and students with disabilities were denied due to a lack of schools with appropriate programs or facilities.

State officials also ruled on the latter issue, stating district officials must identify in their corrective action plan “any challenges the district faces in providing (public school choice) to all requesting students, including students with disabilities and English language learners, and the strategies that the district will use to address these challenges,” according to the state’s May letter to the district.

“The (corrective action plan) must contain specific goals and timelines for coming into full compliance with Commissioner’s regulations, the actions that will be taken to accomplish the goals, and the way in which BPS will measure achievement of the … goals and report progress to (the State Education Department),” the letter reads.

Reaction from school officials

Brown, the district superintendent, issued an official statement in response to the state’s determination:

“We are reviewing the information provided by the state in determining how to best address the state’s expectations for the development of a corrective action plan for the 2013-14 school year,” she wrote, according to the Buffalo News.

The district’s chief academic officer, Frances B. Wilson, told the newspaper the district has done its best to address student transfer requests.

“At the time that all of this occurred, we couldn’t honor the requests, and we didn’t see other options that were viable for us to use,” she said.

School officials have improved their efforts to transfer elementary students when parents requested a move, according to the newspaper, but Radford believes they could do much more.

He contacted leaders of Buffalo’s Catholic schools within a one mile radius of the city, who contend they could accommodate up to 300 high school students and an additional 450 elementary students each year.

“In Buffalo we are closing down Catholic schools that have seats and are in good standing,” Radford said.

Buffalo school officials have obviously been focused on transferring students within the school district, instead of exploring all available options, presumably to keep per-pupil funding from flowing to other districts.

But transfer options outside the district may be necessary for high school students, because the five Buffalo high schools in good standing have specific admission testing standards. As the Buffalo News put it, “that raises the bar considerably for parents looking to transfer their children to any of the available high schools.”

Thankfully, with Radford at the helm, the parent council has remained focused on what’s best for students, instead of what’s financially advantageous for the city’s public school system.

The persistence has clearly paid off, and district officials are now considering ways to get students out of failing schools by all available means, Wilson told the Buffalo News.

“We’re going to look at all the options,” she said.

State officials order Buffalo district to honor transfer requests for students stuck in failing schools – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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