Money: Loss of funds forces reduction in staff that helps socio-economically challenged students

By Sophia Hysaw, Staff Writer & Opinion Editor

                Sophia Hysaw

While Indian Trail High School and Academy pushes forward into its second semester, students and staff alike have begun to notice a lack of funding for resources that used to be provided.

Over the past few years, on paper at least, the percentage of families living in poverty at Indian Trail dropped from 32% to 28%, on paper at least, triggering a loss of more than $300,000.

This funding provided technology for classrooms, academic support for students, and staff support within the school.

So what happened?

This year’s dearth of funds is due to a loss of Indian Trail’s Title 1 funding, school officials explained in a recent interview with The Pulse. Title I funds are federal dollars allocated to state schools to ensure economically disadvantaged children receive a fair, equitable, and high-quality education. The extra dollars are supposed to help close academic achievement gaps.

While school districts go through a long process of meetings and votes on funding and what programs those dollars will be used for, a big factor in whether a school will receive the allocation is how many low-income students attend the school.

“Schools that have a higher population of students in poverty have very different needs compared to schools with a lower population of students in poverty and that’s where the government comes in,” Principal Scott Kennow said.

The federal government divides low-income children into two groups: those eligible for free lunch and those eligible for reduced lunch. Both groups depend on how much income the household earns. In order to receive the benefit, parents or guardians must fill out an application with information about family size and income.

The problem at Indian Trail is the number of families who filled out the form requesting free or reduced lunch has declined over the years.

“Over the last eight years, maybe 10, the government has been stepping in and so now the parents aren’t required to fill out these forms anymore. So we don’t have an exact number or we have a much lower number with only the people who chose to fill out these forms,” Kennow said. But the fact that these forms are no longer required to be filled out is only one part of the problem. School officials suggested that some families are uncomfortable filling out the forms because they must disclose specific personal information.

“With all of the immigration regulations and stuff going on with all the mistrust within our world and our government, people don’t want to disclose that information. So for the first time, due to the lack of forms being filled out, we lost our Title 1 funding,” Kennow said.

Although many are hesitant to fill out this form, many do qualify to be able to. About 36-38,000 reach that poverty level in the school who could qualify to fill out this form.

When parents came into the building for parent-teacher conferences, helped put concerns about filling out the forms at ease. But since teacher conferences went virtual due to COVID, that personal connection was lost.

“And they give everyone free lunch now, so the need (to fill out forms for that) isn’t there and that hurts us as well,” Kennow said.

The loss of Title 1 designation also has some staff concerned that it will affect the Teacher Forgiveness Loan which is Under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program. Teachers that teach full time consecutively for five academic years in Title 1 schools as well as meeting other qualifications receive this forgiveness loan of up to $17,500 on their Subsidized and Unsubsidized Federal Stafford Loans.

Kennow said that for that purpose, Indian Trail is still designated as a Title 1 school, which still allows those staff members to receive the loan program benefits.

Title 1 funding majorly supported IT’s ability to attain Promethean panels and chrome books, but school officials also earmarked dollars for literacy improvement to help lift the poverty level students’ test scores.

“What we spent it on was certain kinds of technology for teachers, certain programs like Gimkit or trivia, literature, professional development, and even intervention teachers. One of our biggest losses was Mr. Barker,” Kennow said.

Josh Barker was a student support staff member at Indian Trail who provided students with emotional and social support as well as college and career readiness.

“My role was to give the students support outside of the classroom so that they were successful inside the classroom,” Barker said.

The loss of academic intervention and socio-emotional support staff for high poverty students from Barker had an impact.

“The biggest loss in my opinion was the effect it had on the kids — being able to service them. The more support we can give the kids the better, whether that be through the academic or the social-emotional stuff. It was tough knowing that I wasn’t going to be here to help see these kids through these successes,” Barker said.

Even though Barker is no longer on staff here, there are still people within the school.

“We have Mr. Sauceda still helping with the student intervention, but he’s stretched thin now because there’s only one of him and he has to have smaller groups of kids to help,” Barker said.

Though this was a major hit to the overall staff at Indian Trail, it did not come as a total and complete surprise that it happened.

“We knew that this was potentially coming and so we had a plan but then the pandemic hit and so we couldn’t go around and knock on doors in the community. So we still have to get this figured out,” Principal Kennow said.