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With a January deadline looming, the state Board of Education appears to be seeking a middle path between highly polarized positions among education stakeholders on how a new program aimed at raising achievement by poor and "English-learner" students will be implemented.

While school boards, administrators and unions want "flexibility" in spending the extra money going to districts with large numbers of the targeted students, civil rights groups and business-backed reform groups want more specificity in how the money is to be spent.

The latter sharply criticized the first draft of regulations and during a lengthy board hearing earlier in the fall and more recently, legislative leaders have joined in the criticism.

In response, a consultant to the board, WestEd, has published a revised draft of guidelines that appears to be more specific than the original, but still may not satisfy the critics.

The board is supposed to finalize its regulations by late January and both factions have been hammering Michael Kirst, the education professor who presides over the board and is the originator of the "weighted formula," which Gov. Jerry Brown embraced.

The new draft proposes more specific burdens on school districts to demonstrate that the extra money is being spent on the targeted students, rather than on broader categories. The civil rights and reform groups have said they fear that the money will be dissipated into higher salaries for teachers and other areas than don't directly impact the educations of children who have fallen behind their peers in education skills.

PHOTO: Pleasant Grove High School students get off their bus in 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua


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