The Elmbrook School Board on Tuesday unanimously decided to send a letter to key legislators requesting a fundamental change in the way the Chapter 220 program is funded so that per-pupil allocations are credited directly to school districts.
Chapter 220, enacted as law in 1975, began in the 1976-77 school year to facilitate the transfer of students between schools and districts to promote cultural and racial integration in education for students and their parents.
The letter, sent Wednesday, was signed by all seven board members as well as Superintendent Mark Hansen and Keith Brightman, assistant superintendent for finance, operations and human resources.
It was sent to U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore and James Sensenbrenner as well U.S. Sens. Leah Vukmir and Paul Farrow, state Reps. Dale Kooyenga and Robert Hutton as well as the members of the Wisconsin Joint Committee on Finance and Committee on Education.
Appeal after discussions
The appeal comes after the School Board voted the past three years against adding new Chapter 220 students because of the funding structure that, the letter noted, resulted in the loss of $2 million to the district in 2012-13.
"The School District of Elmbrook has reluctantly made the choice to close the door to Chapter 220 students as a result of the current structure of Chapter 220 funding," the letter said. "As it stands today, integration aid effectively serves to reduce property taxes in our municipalities rather than fund the education of the Chapter 220 students in our schools."
The letter noted that the district has maintained a Chapter 220 enrollment of about 300 over the past decade but that the current enrollment is 214 for the 2012-13 school year.
Following discussions in late 2012 reiterating that the district could not afford to support additional Chapter 220 students, the letter was the result of work done by the board's Legislative and Resource Development Committee, Chairwoman Jean Lambert said.
Lambert said the committee had been working on a way to communicate the district's dilemma and took into account the requests of parents seeking sibling enrollment in October.
"They did influence us and gave us more incentive," Lambert said.
One of those parents is Jesse Ortega, a resident of Milwaukee's Third Ward. He told the board that his 9-year-old daughter is a fourth-grade student at Tonawanda but he has a 4-year-old son who would not be eligible if the board cuts off siblings. Ortega described his education as "very poor while growing up in East Chicago, Ind.
"Somehow, I came out all right. But I know most kids don't do that well. We want both of our children to get the best possible education."
Board President Tom Gehl said the issue has not been easy.
"I know board members struggle with the decision (not to allow more enrollment)," Gehl said. "There was support for the program but the funding generated a lot of frustration."
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