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Academic intervention program puts funding for Gainesville schools on chopping block

School officials say it’s important to intervene early if a child is struggling in school.

But Gainesville City Schools may face cuts in state funding because its Early Intervention Program serves a greater percentage of students than programs at other districts in the state.

“Our level last year was 23 percent, and the state average was 11 percent,” said Sarah Bell, chief academic officer for Gainesville City Schools.

Bell said 23 percent of Gainesville students benefit from the program this year, as well.

That’s 950 students in fifth grade or younger.

“This is a program that’s designed for students in kindergarten through fifth grade that may not be performing at grade level,” Bell explained. “The intention of the program is to receive additional support through the services of a certified teacher.”

The certified teachers instruct smaller classes of those students performing below grade level, according to the district’s website.

Gainesville is one of nine school districts and two virtual charter schools that could face cuts in state funding under recommended changes from an Education Reform Commission subcommittee. The subcommittee is charged with developing possible changes to education funding in Georgia.

Gainesville Superintendent Wanda Creel said the changes, which would amount to a 2.3 percent cut — or $900,000 per year — wouldn’t kick in until fiscal year 2020.

Creel said the proposed changes would cut some of the funding that provides for the certified teachers in these smaller classes.

Gainesville follows state guidelines for identifying these students, Bell said, but they use a wide variety of methods. Unlike state-mandated programs such as the gifted program and English for Speakers of Other Languages program, there is no standard measure for identifying these students.

“I think the main issue here is that gifted is a mandated program,” Bell said. “ESOL is a mandated program. But there’s not really a mandate for this one. I’m assuming the funding recommendation committee has chosen to not support it with funding, because it’s not mandated.”

Bell said there are several factors contributing to the high percentage of Gainesville students needing early intervention. One could be the identification methods used, but another could simply be the needs of the students.

“We do have a number of students, who come from backgrounds in our district, who may need more support as they enter school,” she said. “And that may not be the case in some other districts.”

Creel told The Times, “it’s never good news that we have, in essence, to do more with less,” but she appreciates having three budget years to make adjustments.

She said the possible cut in funding is less than previous cuts by the state. One possible solution, she said, was moving some Early Intervention teachers into regular classrooms.

Bell said there is no state mandate that children needing early intervention be served, but it is a decision the Gainesville district has made.

“We do have students who right now have the opportunity to receive additional support,” she said. “We intend to find creative ways in the future to continue to do that, if needed, but it is unfortunate that additional positions or resources would not be available at the state level to support those students.”