ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) – As a growing number of New York’s public schools drop summer programs to trim budgets, more students are paying as much as $200 a class to get the extra help they need in a neighboring district.

Across the country, budget cuts are shutting down classrooms during the summer and leaving students behind.

“Our schools are having to make draconian cuts to keep the doors open and the lights on … summer schools are one of the things that are going to get cut and reduced,” said Dan Fuller of the National School Boards Association.

“Nationally, I can’t give you one number,” Fuller said, “but I can tell you we’re hearing more and more that it is a concern out there.”

For some of New York’s neediest students in grades 4-12, the summer school sessions that opened Tuesday can mean advancing to the next grade, passing a state-mandated exam or even attending college.

But the students most in need of summer school usually can’t afford it and so their academic progress slips further, said Mary Ann DeCostanzo, vice president of the New York State PTA.

“It’s a domino effect,” she said.

“The schools can’t afford to subsidize a summer school and I feel many of our parents can’t afford the tuition,” DeCostanzo said. “And who’s going to suffer? The students. It’s heartbreaking.”

There is no number on how many students will have to pay summer school tuition or were barred because their families couldn’t pay this year. But teachers, parents, state officials, schools boards and administrators agree there is a growing summer school shortage – especially for poor, rural children.

“If your child fails, it is not your fault that the school couldn’t teach them or the child couldn’t learn,” said Ann Marie Reeb, who helped found a parents’ group opposed to the fees.

Reeb feared her daughter might need help in three courses – $600 worth of summer fees – but her daughter passed all her final tests at Starpoint Central School District in Lockport, near Buffalo.

This year, about 200 of the state’s 730 school districts don’t offer summer school and six of the state’s 38 BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) centers have no summer school, according to the state Education Department. Neither state nor local officials could provide a comparison to past years, but agree that demand is rising as cuts are made.

“Kids need to be provided a quality education and if summer school is part of that, it should be afforded to them,” Linda Hodge, president of the National PTA said Thursday, adding that the concern is becoming evident nationwide.

Charging tuition for out-of-district students is legal, but charging fees to register or to take summer Regents exams needed to graduate violates state law, said Ted Wolfstich, an associate in the State Education Department. Some districts unaware of the statute, however, are charging the fees, he said. The education department will inform districts next week that they cannot charge for tests or registration.

“We have more students needing summer school,” Wolfstich said. “With the way budgets have been in some schools, especially in small rural areas, they can’t find it in their budgets and they can’t find teachers.”

Some districts are also cutting summer school bus runs.

Wolfstich also said summer schools that traditionally offered only high school courses now have to offer extra help to fourth- through eighth-graders who have problems uncovered in new standardized tests. More tests are planned under the federal act known as No Child Left Behind.

“It’s a Catch-22 almost,” said Barbara Bradley of New York State School Boards Association. “It’s one more strike against the state system for education funding because it’s putting kids at risk.”

Reeb’s Starpoint Central School District has no summer school and ended its summer school contract with the local BOCES. Now, Starpoint students face up to $196 per course in tuition, a $3 registration fee and a $32 fee per Regents exam. Students must attend either Lockport public schools or the BOCES serving Orleans and Niagara counties.

Superintendent C. Douglas Whelan said the district dropped summer school in 2001, when it was forced to adopt a contingency budget. Now the district is just trying to keep up with a growing enrollment and the resulting need for more teachers and resources.

“Summer school is very important,” Whelan said. “There are just a number of other important priorities.”

On the Net:

National PTA

National School Boards Association

AP-ES-07-09-04 0413EDT

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