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Classes for Gifted: End in Sight? : Supporters Rally to Save Enriched Studies

March 04, 1987|DOUG BROWN | Times Staff Writer

When Carrie Quinn first read Shakespeare's "Macbeth" in January as part of her fifth-grade assignment at Eader Elementary School in Huntington Beach, she didn't understand it much. The play had so many hard words, "like doth and hath. "

Last week, however, Carrie talked glowingly about the haunting beauty of the "language of the play" which had helped her understand the finer points of tragedy in literature.

"Lady Macbeth talks her husband into killing (Scottish king) Duncan so that he can be king, but she goes crazy and kills herself. She can't get everything done her own way and feels guilty that Duncan was killed."

Carrie, 10, doubts that she would have mastered the Elizabethan English of this classic if she had not been cast as Lady Macbeth in the play her classmates will put on later this month. They are part of Eader's Gifted and Talented Education or GATE program.

An estimated 21,000 students in Orange County public schools are enrolled in GATE because they have been identified as mentally gifted on the basis of IQ tests, standardized achievement tests or grades, said Pat Phelan, president of the Orange County Council of Gifted. The organization is made up of GATE coordinators from the 18 county school districts with the largest enrollments in the program.

GATE offers enriched or advanced placement classes, said Phelan, GATE psychologist for Santa Ana's junior high schools. California launched the program 25 years ago, and today it is offered in all of Orange County's 28 school districts, Phelan said.

Educators and parents say GATE keeps gifted children from becoming bored in regular classes, which they say could cause these students to develop academic or behavior problems.

Phelan and other GATE supporters fear that the program may be eliminated because Gov. George Deukmejian has proposed phasing out state funding for the program over the next two years. They have launched an intensive lobbying effort to save the program.

This year, the state is spending $21.5 million on GATE. While no figures are available on the amount received by county schools this year, Jeff Wells, Orange County Department of Education GATE coordinator, said the county received $1.6 million last year for the 21,219 students then enrolled in the program.

Deukmejian spokesman Bernard Kalscheuer said the governor proposed phasing out GATE to finance a reduction in the average size of first-grade classes from 28 to 22 pupils.

"When the governor met with education leaders last December their chief topic of concern was the need to reduce class sizes," Kalscheuer said in a telephone interview from Sacramento.

Kalscheur said Deukmejian was forced to fund this class-reduction proposal using money earmarked for six special education programs, including GATE, because of limitations on spending caused by a shortfall in revenues and a constitutional limitation on expenditures.

Even with these constraints, Kalscheur said that the governor's budget proposal for public schools calls for an increase in spending. Deukmejian has recommended that state spending for education be increased by $621 million, or 4%, over the current year's budget to $17.2 billion in the 1987-1988 school year.

Kalscheur rejected the contention that the elimination of state funding will result in the end of GATE, noting: "Individual districts are free to continue the program if they want to.

Only three of Orange County's 28 school districts--Cypress, Centralia and Fullerton Joint Union--are able to fund GATE programs on their own, Phelan said. The remainder must rely on state money to partially underwrite GATE costs.

'Within two years Deukmejian's proposed budget will effectively eliminate a program we've built up over the past 25 years in order to provide quality education to gifted children in this state," said Ron Fontaine, a Bakersfield school administrator and president of the California Assn. for the Gifted, a group of parents and educators that promotes GATE programs. "There is no evidence that most individual districts will be able to continue the GATE program using their own funds."

John Ikerd, acting superintendent of the Orange Unified School District, said the elimination of GATE would be "a terrible loss because the program offers the qualitatively different curriculum that gifted students deserve."

With 1,714 students enrolled in GATE, Orange Unified has the third-largest program enrollment in the county, Phelan said.

The district this year received $141,000, or $82 per student, from the state to fund GATE, said Iris Yamaoka, program coordinator. Figures are not available on the amount the district spends on GATE because the program does not have a separate budget, Yamaoka said .

Survey on Spending

The cost of Orange Unified's GATE teachers, for example, is included in separate budgets for each school--a fairly typical practice, said Phelan, who is conducting a survey to determine how much each district in the county spends on GATE.

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