Original URL: http://www.staronline.com/vcs/ox/article/0,1375,VCS_238_2124298,00.html

5 schools may seek reading skills grant
Ventura County Star
July 21, 2003
Frank Moraga

Oxnard campuses may share $720,000

The Oxnard School District could become one of the largest recipients in the state to receive funding for a kindergarten-through-third-grade reading improvement program.

School board members are scheduled to review guidelines for the Reading First grant at their next meeting on Wednesday.

If each of the five district schools selected to participate agree to go ahead and implement the program, the three-year, $720,000-per-year grant will be used to provide reading coaches, teacher training and other support to help all children eventually reach a third-grade reading level.

The district could get double the amount if a state requirement that limits the funding to English-only classes is eliminated, officials reported last week.

If all five of the schools participate, the Oxnard School District potentially could be one of the largest recipients in the state to receive the Reading First grant, Superintendent Richard Duarte said.

The Oxnard School District joins the Santa Paula School District as the only districts in Ventura County selected by the state for the Reading First program.

Although the funds come at a welcome time as school districts face state budget cuts and growing enrollment, those challenges could make it difficult to meet the grant's strict guidelines.

"Our board (previously) gave direction to make sure the schools were willing to participate," Duarte said.

"There are big-time strings attached. It's a difficult time for us right now. We're trying to finish the school year and begin the next school year. Generally teachers and administrators want what is best for the kids, but there is a limit of what can be expected."

The Santa Paula district, which is receiving a three-year, $455,000-per-year grant, is prepared to go ahead with the program, Superintendent Luis Villegas said.

"The dollars are very focused for the next three years, the guidelines are very precise, and we're OK with that," Villegas said.

Though the district doesn't have a bilingual education program, the Reading First grant will play an important part in bringing non-English-speaking students up to the third-grade reading level, he said.

At the end of the school year just completed, Villegas said, the district had 1,899 students enrolled in kindergarten through third grade.

The Santa Paula School District already has begun taking advantage of the grant by providing training to school principals and will continue that with teacher training as well, Villegas said.

"A key factor in making this a success is parent involvement and preparing principals to be instructional leaders," he said.

The Reading First grant comes from the state's $133 million share of the federal $900 million Reading First program. The program is part of the No Child Left Behind federal education reform bill.

Although there were no federal restrictions on which classroom programs could receive the funding, the state board of education added regulations that critics say essentially sought to prevent the grant program from going to schools that had bilingual education programs.

That led to a successful lawsuit by the League of United Latin American Citizens, other nonprofit community groups and parents, including Oxnard educator Denis O'Leary, who has children enrolled in bilingual education programs.

"My argument is that bilingual education is a legal option, and schools should not be restricted for following that option," he said.

The California Board of Education, which met recently in Sacramento, agreed to let the regulations expire in mid-August.

Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-South Gate, introduced AB 1485 to have the state's English-only requirement for Reading First grant removed.

The grant money would be used to provide professional development for K-3 educators and special-education teachers. Reading coaches, a content expert and district and state technical help also would be provided.

The three-year grant can be extended an additional three years based on the academic growth of the students in the districts.

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