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California and the West

U.S. OKs Use of Funds for High Schools

Education: Waiver allows transfer of $129 million from class size reduction to other programs, possibly English and math.

April 06, 1999|DUKE HELFAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal education officials announced Monday that California will receive $129 million to expand its popular class size reduction program, and Gov. Gray Davis urged that school districts devote the funding to 10th-grade English and math classes, where students will soon face a new high school exit exam.

The U.S. Department of Education freed California from a requirement to spend the funds on the primary grades because the state has already reduced most of those classes to 19 or 20 students per teacher.

Federal rules require that classes be reduced to 18 students per teacher before the money can be spent on higher grades, but officials granted California's request for a waiver and eased the standard to 20.

Davis announced the agreement with Vice President Al Gore and state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin during a news conference Monday at Hamilton High School on the Westside.

Davis and Eastin urged districts to devote the money to 10th grade so students will be prepared for the graduation exam that will take effect in 2004.

"These children have largely been neglected until now in terms of class size reduction," Eastin said in an interview. "We have to be certain that they get a chance to learn to read and write and think critically."

The average size of high school English and math classes exceeds 30 students, and in urban districts the numbers are known to swell beyond 40 students, Eastin said.

State officials have not set a specific number for the size of 10th-grade classes. The goal is to simply bring them down from existing levels.

The state has already sought to reduce the size of ninth-grade classes by offering school districts financial incentives.

The new federal money will go to hire more teachers and train existing instructors.

State officials estimated that 3,000 to 4,000 new teachers could be hired in the coming school year, and an additional 1,000 others in the next year if a proposed increase in the federal program is approved by Congress.

To spend the money on grades other than 1 to 3, school districts must develop plans to ensure that all teachers in those primary grades are fully certified.

California's $129-million allotment is part of $1.2 billion appropriated this year by Congress to cut classes by hiring 30,000 teachers.

California received the largest share of the funding. The Clinton administration wants to hire 100,000 teachers over seven years to shrink grades 1 to 3 to 18 students per teacher.

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