Iowa schools seek state funding for dropout prevention


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Iowa City schools may consider requesting additional dropout-prevention funding now available under a House bill passed Wednesday.

Iowa City School Board member Sarah Swisher said any additional funding would be a help — Iowa City schools' dropout rates have fluctuated between 92 and 98 students in grades seven through 12 from 2008-10, according to the district's Annual Progress Report.

"The district works hard to keep our dropout rates at a reasonable position," she said. "If there were extra funding to help kids who struggle in that last year or two of completing their education in the district, I hope we can find ways to apply for it."

The bill, first passed by the Senate last year, would allow school districts to request additional funds for allowable growth — or the state-defined maximum level a district can spend yearly — from the state if those schools displayed an "unusual" need for dropout-prevention programs.

Local legislators said legislative support for the bill was nearly unanimous.

"It was a strong bipartisan effort," said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville. "There are a handful of school districts [that voted no] that have already applied for waivers, and it wouldn't have given them any more money to help with that."

Though local schools have dropout prevention programs in place, some school officials said they could always use the extra money.

"We do have dropout prevention resources," said West High Principal Jerry Arganbright. "We have a student advocate who works with students that might have difficulty getting through high school. We also have a counselor. Part of his time is to tend to 'at risk kids.' "

West uses programs including a resource center open every class period and a group that meets every Monday and Tuesday after school to help students with schoolwork.

Jacoby said dropout-prevention programs had trouble receiving additional funding under rigid spending guidelines in the past.

"There's a certain amount of dollars allowed under the allowable growth formula," he said. "The problem is that the money is not as flexible to apply for programs that apply to dropout protection."

Other legislators echoed those concerns.

"[The bill] provides the local school districts with more flexibility to choose what they use the funding for," said Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf. "I think we were basically just saying that local schools districts should have some flexibility with those dollars so I do think it's a value."

Miller said a district's year-end unspent balance must be reviewed before it receives additional funds.

"There are restrictions," she said. "They have a basic criteria for allocating those dollars for the dropout prevention. [The budget] is not an infinite amount of money."

Schools would receive between one-fourth and three-fourths of necessary program costs under the bill.

Arganbright said that West's dropout rates are very low, with a graduation rate of 94 to 95 percent.

"It takes a lot of energy [to run these programs]," he said. "I think if there's more resources that we can ask for, that would be helpful. If the need is there, then I think the resources are always helpful."

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