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Few take school transfer option
New rules could have meant turmoil for state educators. But only a few of the thousands of students eligible to transfer did so.
By RON MATUS
Published July 31, 2004
The federal No Child Left Behind Act, the centerpiece of President Bush's education agenda, opened the floodgates to hundreds of thousands of student transfers this summer.
But the flood never happened.
In some school districts, only a relative handful of parents - fewer than 1 percent of those eligible - applied to transfer their children. Even fewer are expected to actually move.
"With some folks, the sky is always falling," said Jim Warford, the state's K-12 chancellor, referring to criticism before No Child results were released in June.
Parents are staying put because "they're seeing the efforts their schools are making to improve," Warford said.
Under No Child, parents with children in schools that fail to make "adequate progress" two years in a row are allowed to transfer to better performing schools, with districts paying for their transportation. In Florida, 77 percent of schools fell into that category this year, including more than 600 that earned A's under the state grading system.
After sending explanatory letters to parents this summer, district officials crossed their fingers, unsure how they would handle a mass reshuffling.
It's unclear how many Florida students will move; the state Department of Education says a comprehensive tally won't be available until October.
But the response from a number of districts shows why many school officials are breathing easier.
In Broward County, the state's second-largest district, 60,000 students were eligible. About 2,400 parents initially requested a transfer. In the end, only about 800 decided to move.
"We were very lucky," said Frank Vodolo, executive director of educational programs in Broward. "It could have been a disaster."
That's not to say the transfers will be painless. Broward is still figuring out transportation costs for new bus routes, an expense Vodolo said could rise to several million dollars.
In Hillsborough, more than 400 students are planning to use the No Child provisions to transfer. But the parents will be transporting those students themselves.
Because Hillsborough already has a choice plan that provides transportation for some students, the state did not require it to provide expanded options under No Child, at least not now.
"That's the direction that we've given them," Warford said.
The ban on transportation limited the number of responses the district received, said Walt Bartlett, Hillsborough's director of federal programs.
At the same time, many of those who requested transfers were doing so not because of academics, but because of employment, custody and other factors.
"There were probably as many reasons as applications," Bartlett said.
It's possible, some observers say, that more parents didn't request transfers because they didn't have time to think about it. The No Child assessments were announced June 15 and many districts required responses by July 1.
But some district officials say experience with other transfer options, including state vouchers for students in failing schools, suggests parents don't uproot their kids easily.
In Orange County, about 1,400 parents requested transfers under No Child this summer. But Lin Wright, a spokesman for the Orange school district, said many will choose not to follow through.
"A lot of folks say they want it," Wright said. "Then they think about it and say, "Aww, forget it.' "