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Rebell Featured in Staten Island Advance about Chancellor's New Funding Formula

Already offered a choice of which high school to attend, students on Staten Island will get a similar option at the middle school level as the city moves toward a systemwide middle school application process.

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein expressed the idea without specifying a timeline or additional details during private discussions with principals last night, according to a Department of Education spokesman.

Those discussions took place in the midst of proposed changes in the school funding system which, when implemented in other cities, has similarly led to greater student option in selecting schools.

At a reporter's roundtable in Manhattan's Tweed Courthouse earlier yesterday, Klein did not answer specifically when asked whether the new "weighted" funding system -- which will pay schools largely according to monetary values assigned to students, plus additional funds for students with academic or economic disadvantages -- would lead to school choice at the elementary or middle school levels.

"Over time, I hope to increase choice," Klein told reporters. "As much as we can -- within the public school system -- facilitate choice, we look forward to doing so."

A significant number of districts in the city already offer students a choice of middle schools.

Some education experts have recommended tying weighted student funding to school choice because it creates a financial incentive for schools to improve their academic programs as a means to attract more students -- especially those with disadvantages.

While it's anticipated that most Island parents would welcome an option for their middle school children, only one of the 11 intermediate schools here -- Petrides, in Sunnyside -- is in good academic standing as far as meeting state progress markers.

"I don't think I have a choice of a really challenging program for my child," said Sue Dietrich, first vice-president of the Staten Island Federation of Parent Teacher Associations, whose son attends sixth grade at Prall Intermediate in West Brighton.

However, she added, concerning the prospect of options, "I personally think that on Staten Island, that would be good."

A Department of Education source said she believed the school system would also move toward an elementary school choice program down the road, creating an open market system that some people fear -- and others hope -- would make for an easy transition into a system of school vouchers.

Indeed, President George W. Bush has been trying to promote the use of school vouchers as part of the No Child Life Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization this year.

"There are a lot of people who promote and endorse the weighted student funding system precisely because they think it's going to lead to a lot more choice within the public school system and outside the public school system in the form of vouchers," said Michael Rebell, former counsel for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, and current executive director of the Campaign for Education Equity at Columbia University's Teachers College. "It would certainly facilitate moving in that direction if somebody wanted to."

Yoav Gonen covers education news for the Advance. He may be reached at

A copy of the article can be found here:

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