Lack of data costs Calif. federal school funds

California's inability to keep track of students as they move from district to district hurt the state's chances for federal "Race to the Top" funding, Fresno-area school officials said Thursday.

"That crunched our application," said Rich Smith, deputy superintendent for Sanger Unified School District.

Education officials were disappointed to learn Tuesday that California's proposal was not among the 10 chosen to share in the $3.3 billion being distributed in the second round of the federal program. California also was shut out of the first round of funding.

The state's plan initially was spearheaded by a consortium that included the Fresno, Clovis and Sanger districts. Fresno-area school officials worked with Los Angeles, Long Beach, Sacramento and San Francisco to develop a second-round "Race to the Top" proposal.

Smith, who worked on the state's bid for $700 million, said California's application was hamstrung because the state lacks a data system to track and record student academic progress.

"At the state level, they need to get their act together," he said. "They've poured millions of dollars into [developing] this system, and it's still not functional."

Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson, who also worked on the state application, called the lack of a statewide data system inexcusable.

"It's a relatively minor investment and we haven't made it in over a decade, and Sacramento should be ashamed," Hanson said.

Larry Powell, Fresno County schools superintendent, said data systems are in place to track the academic progress of students who move from one school to another within a district or from one district to another.

However, the lack of a statewide system has hindered districts for years, he said. Without such data, schools do not have information on the educational needs of new students, he said.

In Fresno County, 15% to 25% of students switch schools each year, Powell said. The statewide percentages are similar, said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for the California Department of Education.

Jack O'Connell, California state superintendent of schools, said the state applied for a $20 million federal grant six months ago to improve its student data system but lost out to other states with better-developed systems.

"It's a little bit of a Catch-22," he said.

O'Connell said he hopes to have a statewide system operating by the end of the year.

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