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Schools starting to move past cheating scandals
By: Melissa Gundersen
EL PASO, Texas -- The U.S. Secretary of Education visited the Borderland Tuesday and answered tough questions about cheating scandals in the area school districts.
"I got tremendous confidence in the new board and the new superintendent. We know all too well this community has been through a lot. We know far too many children who need the best education were frankly cheated of that," said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
Duncan talked about the cheating scandals in El Paso, Canutillo, San Elizario and Socorro Independent School Districts.
"I want to say it's not a coincidence were here in El Paso, said Duncan.
The issue started when an audit revealed schools in the El Paso Independent School District removed students from the 10th grade so they would not take the state-mandated Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills tests.
Lorenzo Garcia pleaded guilty to allegations that he defrauded the state and federal government.
Higher scores mean more government funding for districts.
Moving forward, Duncan said each district needs to keep a closer eye on the way it operates.
"I think it's important for districts to build their own accountability, at the state level and at the federal level where we have to step in we can and we will, but I think this is best addressed at the local level," said Duncan.
The new EPISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera, however, said the opposite. Cabrera said districts along the border need the governments help to move forward.
"We all have very similar problems across the border and a lot of that is having to do with children who don't speak English," said Cabrera.
Cabrera said EPISD doesn't turn anyone away, so the chances of improving test scores may be slim. His plan is to gather, and work with, all superintendents from El Paso down to Brownsville.
"Get all of these superintendents, all of these school districts and trustees together and together are a force that goes and talks to the secretary of education. Talk to Washington, talk to the state," said Cabrera.
Cabrera said the goal is to come up with creative ways to gain funding.
"Any sort of resource they can give us," said Cabrera.
Duncan said with new people in charge at the state level, Cabrera working at EPISD and a light shed on the issue, he hopes for big changes.
"I think it is a new day and Im very, very hopeful and confident about where this district is going to go," said Duncan.
Some people expressed concerns over how districts like EPISD can move passed the cheating scandal when staff members involved are still employed. Both Duncan and Cabrera said they will look into who needs to be let go and do so.