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Future of Gifted Education, Magnet Schools in Doubt

By Antonio D. French

Filed Tuesday, November 22 at 10:48 PM

By Peter Downs

November 22, 2005 –– Last Friday, David Welch, director of gifted education programs for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, gave representatives from metropolitan area school districts the news they had been fearing. Starting next year, there will be no more state funding for gifted education or English as a second language instruction.

Currently, state funding for gifted education and English as a second language is added on to the funding school districts get from the state foundation formula, and it is specifically marked for those uses. After this year it stops. Under the new school funding system recently signed into law by Gov. Blunt, school districts will get state funding only from the foundation formula. No longer will there be extra money for gifted education or English as a second language

The Missouri legislature's decision to narrow education funding for education programs mirrors recent trends in St. Louis Public Schools.

Superintendent Creg Williams has agreed to meet with Montessori parents on November 30, at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the future of the Euclid and Washington Montessori schools. The fourth and fifth grades were taken off the Montessori method this year and reorganized along traditional classroom lines. Parents have expressed concern that that is a prelude to eliminating the Montessori magnet programs entirely and reconstituting the schools as traditional schools.

Meanwhile, at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, staff is concerned for the survival of the visual and performing arts program. Central is the school district's magnet high school for visual and performing arts. It lost two arts teachers this year, in ceramics and metalsmithing, and is slated to lose drawing and painting teachers next year.

Central Visual and Performing Arts High School is a school that district officials refuse to let succeed. Major school districts across the country have magnet visual and performing arts high schools designed to attract the most artistically talented students with the advanced instruction they need to further their skills. Not Central, however. District officials have refused to let the school set any meaningful entrance requirements in the arts. In St. Louis, admission to the fine arts high school is based not on artistic merit, but on the accident of having a white parent or the luck of the draw in the lottery. Artistic talent is irrelevant. This year, school district administrators allegedly have taken to packing the school with special education students. Knowledgeable sources say the percentage of special education students at Central in special education has risen to 27%.

Next year will see even more drastic cuts in the arts programming at Central. Superintendent Williams reportedly has instructed the budget office to allocate the fine arts budget equally among all the high schools, with the result that none of them can support a decent fine arts program. The new budget gives Central, and other high schools, eight dollars per student to spend on fine arts.

As previously reported in the Watch, Williams has overseen widespread cuts in arts programs across the district. The two performing arts elementary schools saw art programs, and teachers, cut this year, as did Kennard and McKinley.

The cuts at Kennard and McKinley Classical Junior Academies indicate that the target is broader than simply the fine arts schools. The Watch has learned that the budget for magnet programs has been cut to zero at several other magnet schools. Without extra funding from the state, could the gifted programs be next on the block?

In all of the above cases, one of the rationale's for the cuts is a twisted notion of "equity," in which it is assumed that magnet schools get more money than neighborhood schools. That does not track, however. In 2003-2004, the most spending per pupil in the elementary grades was at a neighborhood school, and the lowest spending per pupil was at a magnet school. According to the district's annual report in 2004, the latest year currently available, Henry School topped the list of most expensive elementary schools with and expenditure of $12,768 per pupil. Kennard Classical Junior Academy, a magnet school, came in as the cheapest school with an expenditure of $7,828 per student. Kennard, however, suffered program cuts this year in the name of "equity."

The list of spending at elementary schools is attached to the bottom of this letter. Magnet and elementary schools are scattered amongst each other up and down the list.


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