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Duquesne School District Could Receive Funding, Lose Power

Republican state lawmakers are working to ease the transition of seventh and eighth graders from financially-distressed Duquesne City School District to neighboring East Allegheny and West Mifflin Area School Districts this fall, but they're doing so through a bill that strips almost all say from the local district and places power in the hands of the state.

"It gives unlimited power to the Department of Education to have oversight over the public schools," said State Rep. Bill Kortz (D-West Mifflin), who staunchly opposes House Bill 1307, which passed the Senate by a slim margin Tuesday.

If approved, the so-called "Financial Recovery Bill" would allow the state to select up to nine severely struggling districts and assign a chief recovery officer to design and implement a recovery plan. Should a district not adopt the state-sponsored plan, the Secretary of Education could petition for state takeover. If plans are adopted, districts would be eligible for long-term, interest-free loans from the state.

"But if it's already financially distressed, how are they going to pay the loan back?" Kortz contended.

Recovery plans could include sending students to another district or converting the school to a charter. If passed, the bill would immediately apply to Duquesne, as well as Chester-Upland, Harrisburg, and York school districts.

In 2007, the state legislature passed a law allowing Duquesne to send its high school students to East Allegheny and West Mifflin, but capped the number of students each could receive. The still-struggling Duquesne now needs these districts to absorb its seventh and eighth grade students, as well.

Tacked onto the new bill is a provision that would enable them to do so by lifting the initial cap. Another measure would require West Mifflin and East Allegheny districts to hire furloughed Duquesne teachers that qualify for openings.

The bill is now headed to the House for a vote. Kortz said he expects the bill will pass through a vote along party lines, but Democrats still plan to fight "tooth and nail" against it.