WakeEd

The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. How will the new student assignment plan balance diversity, stability, proximity and stability? How will Jim Merrill replace Tony Tata as the new superintendent of the state's largest district? How will voters react to a $810 million school construction bond referendum on Oct. 8 ballot? How will this fall's school board elections impact the future of the district?

WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui. While Keung posts information and analysis on the issues, keep us posted on your suggestions, questions, tips and what you're doing to cope with the changes in Wake's schools.

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Wake school fight to appear in Sunday's New York Times

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It looks like the world will hear about what's happening in the Wake County school system in the Sunday edition of The New York Times.

The Old Grey Lady has posted the story on its web site today. It isn't nearly as glowing about the school system as compared the 2005 Sunday front-page story about the diversity policy.

“My feeling is that it’s very important for people in Wake to drive over to Charlotte and see what’s happened,” said Gary Orfield, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies school busing, in the article.

The article will likely help shape national perception of the school system, as Matthew Brown had warned about in a January school board meeting.

The article cites supporters of the diversity policy who say that students of all races in Wake continue to outperform state and national averages and have improved on S.A.T. scores and end-of-year tests in recent years. (That's not totally accurate.)

The article also quotes Roslyn Arlin Mickelson, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, who says that research shows that students of all races and backgrounds perform better in diverse schools. Diversified schools typically have higher graduation rates, more college acceptances and fewer students in the criminal justice system, she said.

The article quotes Sam Haney, a black parent who made waves at Tuesday's CEM meeting when he said the board majority's new changes would result in Wake appearing to a “a racist school system.”

“Why would we want the black students in an all-black school?” Haney said in the artlcle. “The world just doesn’t look like that anymore.”

On the other side, new school board member John Tedesco argues why he feels the current assignment policy needs to be changed.

“We’ve been playing three-card monte with these kids, shuffling them from school to school,” Tedesco said. “and we forgot about quality education.”

The article notes how the new board members cite the dropping graduation rate, rising suspensions and a widening performance gap between poor and wealthy students. They also note that "dozens of schools currently exceed the 40 percent subsidized lunch limit with impunity."

The article makes one statement about the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that is not quite right. The article says the court ruled that race could no longer be considered in school assignment.

The Supreme Court actually restricted, but didn't bar, the use of race. The standard for using race is now so high that most school districts steer clear of the use of race.

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Sweeping it under the rug

Those who are reading this story for the first time should understand that this is a cultural misunderstanding. Those of us who moved here from the North thought that a apple was an apple. Some here in control of the school system in the south thought they could hide an orange under the rug and call it an apple.

Being raised in the North, much to the irritation of our 'hosts', many have questioned what was going on. We call a spade a spade.

Fact of the matter is, the data isn't there. Fact of the matter is, busing has been a miserable shell game involving children. No one can prove, and no one has shown that this shell game has done ANY CHILD any good.

Parents have been awakened by the instability that WALKED THROUGH our front doors, and then required us to look at the oranges under the rugs. This damned system has divided neighorhoods and in many cases, divided families, and stressed children - and IN FACT not helped those they said they would help.

So, we have by necessity, because of what this system did to our own children - investigated what this system was doing to all children. They didn't like what we started to talk about. They didn't like what we saw and what we will not stop talking about. This system is taking advantage of children because of labels that grant money will bring.  

WE - the broad unpartisan parents who love children across Wake County - want to fix that.

We have come to understand that those who are labeled as F&R/ economically disadvantaged are scorned by the school system. These children are weighted down by the system, labeled by their economic status and expected - as they are entered into the databases - to achieve less. Investigate for yourself the WCPSS algorithms that the E&R department has created - they think poor kids are born dumb.  

Its really rotten.

So, those of ya'll who are thinking of relocating here and are reading that NY Times article - take it from me - there are two sides to every story. Wake County is NOT an ideal place to educate your children - YET.
We're trying to fix it, but it will take some time.

Trying to read around the

Trying to read around the arrogance, pomposity, and other attitude, is it "fair" to summarize what you're saying as --

you are dissatisfied with the system, think it hasn't and isn't serving either you or your neighborhood well and have identified some facts that seem to show it isn't fulfillng the needs of some entire groups of children.

If you stopped at that statement and attempted to gain a true community consensus about change by raising the key issues you've identified, you would have done a service to the community.

But what is happening now, is not an effort to truly identify the best way to change the system to correct flaws.   It is the closed mindset of select individuals, primarily conservatives, who have one method and one method only they want.   Anyone who opposes their methods and plans are labelled as proponents of the existing purportedly failing system -- an unfair and often wildly inaccurate label.

Change could be a good thing.   But your change done your way by your people on your time frame without regards to true community consensus and lacking a full disclosure and consideration of all available options is just as foolish and biased as the previous board was.   In reality, you will have changed absolutely nothing in the overall way the school board operates with the community.

The next election cycle will further split the community resulting in further policy swings and the whole community and most especially the children will lose.

You should quit posting this

You should quit posting this stuff under your name that is known to be the WSCA leader!! 

Re-read this and think like a native Raleigh-ite that you are trying to recruit to your group.  It comes off as patronizing and rude.  Whenever you call it "busing" you run the risk of mixing up de-segregation and the current policy so you don't want to do that either... You should strive to show understanding of the history of our schools here and appreciate what is being done right!  Work to fix what's wrong.  That would be a better tone than this.  Were you drinking when you wrote this?

Oh and it's "Y'ALL"...

Work to fix what's

Work to fix what's wrong.

She is trying but that is an uphill struggle until people like you stop living in the past.

I am a Native




SDR256 – If you were not happy with what you found when
you arrived - Why are you staying? 

For someone who was born here you must
understand that it causes resentment when outsiders move here and decide to “fix”
what they find. 

If where you came from was so great that you want to make us like that them why did you leave? 

We do not want to be like New Jersey. 

If you need help finding your way out of NC the NC Department of Transportaion will give you a free map: 

http://www.ncdot.org/travel/mappubs/

I just I love

I just I love that endearing  and haughty old south attitude. It never ceases to amuse. I bet you were even introduced to society at the NC debutante ball.

>> resentment when outsiders

>> resentment when outsiders move here and decide to “fix” what they find. 

You don't think that there are things happening, today, in WCPSS - that don't need to be fixed??  You're OK with everything as it is today?

 

 

I know plenty of native

I know plenty of native NCians who think this school system is screwed up.

I know plenty of non-native

I know plenty of non-native NC residents who think this school system is not screwed up. 

I really doubt that. Even

I really doubt that. Even the most ardent status quo supporters admit that there is plenty "screwed up" about Wake County schools. All one has to do is look at the graduation rates and the ridiculous school calendar nightmares some families face to understand why that is.

There is plenty screwed

There is plenty screwed up.

But this isn't the way to fix it.   This will just screw it more.

har har har

If it weren't for all the "outsiders" moving, Raleigh would still be a sleepy southern town.  Most of the benefits around you -- the RBC Center, the new Convention Center, new malls, the airport expansion, the Tae-Kwon-Do academy where your kids go to school etc... all would not have happened without all those "outsiders" moving in.  Those outsiders were invited here in order to help create the dynamic economic environment that the Triangle has so beneffited from.  But, if they decide to participate in the government, well then its "yankee go home."  Nice.

Nevertheless, let's face it -- the current school assignment model is the alien thing here; it's straight out of some liberal northeastern academy.   In contrast, some varient of neighborhood schools is used in every other North Carolina school district and in practically every school district throughout the South.  Getting rid of this byzantine assignment policy will make Raleigh MORE southern, not less.

MR. Scone – Why will the




MR. Scone – Why will the new school board will not compromise?
I was at the Policy Committee Meeting last Wednesday and I heard several solutions
that seemed to make both sides happy. I think they have forgotten that 94.5% of
parents are happy.

By the way, I do not shop at malls and would love to have
my “sleepy Southern” town back– I purchase as much as possible for local
business including a lot of our food from local farmers.

I think you also make a great point about government participation
– you should have to be in a district for a least one generation maybe two in
order to hold political office.

TKDMom

Besides calling Mr Sconce an English biscuit, I have a few beefs with your points above. I too grew up in a small town in the south,  and we also had our share of out of towners that came in an enriched our town. One thing you must realize is those out of towners bring in is a lot of money to help with the problems you face here. Most of the migration here are not of the F&R category, except the illegal aliens that North Carolina welcomed with opened arms under the administration of the last governor. With that money you acquired a huge tax base that has built the majority of the new infrastructure of your school system. Wake County did little to address the issue of rapid growth in the past and we all are paying the price because of it. Because we pay taxes, we have the right to voice our views just like you. In fact, I would venture to say, those out of towners probably pay a disproportionate amount of taxes.  If they do not like the overcrowding, mandatory YR, and dumping of poor performing children (via nodes) into the schools they live near...they have every right to say something and run for office. I said dumping for a reason. The children are bused, not truly for diversity, but to improve performance at your Title I schools so the school system can spread their failure throughout the county. The data is there, I seen slides from WCPSS GM that showed the low performance data of the nodes they chose to move, I've seen the policy that allowed it. I've done my homework.  This is not about children at all, it's about "healthy schools" to make the WCPSSS administration look good on paper. The poor kids are actually in some case being hurt by this "economic-diversity" policy. Notice I didn't say F&R, I said poor performing nodes and I would also include nodes with high ESL (English 2nd Language) populations...this is what has really happened. The only population in this area that has been protected is the ITB magnet community, the ones that fight change the most. I'm sorry,  TKDMom, I call it as I see it. 

BTW- A lot of the biggest problems have occured in the last 3 years; hardly something most of us were aware of before we moved here.  AND Wake County has a terrific propaganda arm that enticed us here with a school system that sounded great, that is, until you start living it.

IS THIS JUST ME, or do I have a point?

Nope -- haven't convinced me

Nope -- haven't convinced me by showing me why what you propose is truly an improvement.   All you've done is highlight problems.

Not problems or solutions here

On fallacy of arguments, not yours this time Dove.

BTW - Dove have you pointed out what are Dr Burns' positive results yet?

Heh...

Which solutions?  I was not there, but there's a fundamental disaagreement -- do you consider "diversity" in assignment or not?  It's not a particularly easy place to find middle ground.  I suggest that you may have believed one side was 'happy' with the solution, but actually was not.

And, you're mischaracterizing the 94.5% satisfaction stat from the calendar survey.  For example, Mrs. Sconce and I said that we were satisified with our kids' school, making us part of the 94.5%, yet I'm here pushing for change.   The 94.5% responding were not NOT endorsing the district's policies lock, stock and barrel, as some would make it appear.

As to your last comment, if you want your 'sleepy southern' town back, I suggest that perhaps you should be the one looking for maps from the DoT -- that town is not coming back to Raleigh, but there are plenty of places in North Carolina where you can go and still get it.   

 

Wow,  I sure hope you

Wow,

 I sure hope you never get transferred for your or your spouse's work.  Must feel good to tell someone their "votes" dont count cause they haven't been here long enough.....what's next.....your vote doesn't count cause your not the right_______________ (fill in the blank.....race,religion, sex) 

 Hey.....I was born in NC so I think it is ok for me to point out you sound like a moron with those types of statements. 

I am not sure why you fill the need to name call.




I had a job that moved me
around, I lived in Phoenix, Portland, Birmingham, Long Island and England. I
did not try to change anything while I was there I adapted to the local cultural.




You were either happy,

You were either happy, couldn't care less, or didn't know how. Hardly an example of what others need to do when the education of their children is at stake.

For you to proclaim that a

For you to proclaim that a person who is living in a city/town/county does not have the right to participate in local government unless they have lived there for several generations is an absolute moronic statement.....and usually most moronic statements are uttered by "morons"...so if the shoe fits.............................

Oh by the way....

I certainly do not "fill" the need to call you a moron.  However, after reading your moronic statements....I "feel" otherwise.....

Are you normally at Hot Head?

Are you normally at Hot Head?

Nope....

Just a low tolerance for stupiditySmile

"– you should have to be

"– you should have to be in a district for a least one generation maybe two in order to hold political office."

 

LOL That may be the most asinine thing ever posted here...next to the notion that 94.5% of parents are happy.

try again

Please read the survey - 94.5% of parents are satisfied w/ the calendar at the school THEY CHOSE.

I am one of the 95.5% who answered 'satisfied' on this question, because I wanted to recognize the principa and teachers at the school.  I am not happy with the school system.   I didn't get to answer a survey for my younger son, who no longer attends public school due to the YR and reassignment mess.  

Claiming that 94.5% of parents are happy is just plain dumb.

Lori, re-read the survey -

Lori,

re-read the survey - 95% are happy with their child's SCHOOL WITHOUT REGARD TO CALENDAR.  and something like 60% were "VERY SATISFIED"..

Thanks.

 There is a valid point to not overstate the survey results, but when you don't understand them and completely misstate them you undermine your side's point.

>>you should have to be in a

>>you should have to be in a district for a least one generation maybe two in
order to hold political office.

Why??

2005 NYtimes story

In the 2005 story the NYtimes states: "In Wake County, only 40 percent of black students in grades three through eight scored at grade level on state tests a decade ago. Last spring, 80 percent did." Yet by going to the http://www.ncpublicschools.org/accountability/reporting/leaperformancearchive/ website to 2008-9 results show 43.6% at "Level III" in reading and math for grades three through eight. Different writer - different "facts?"

I often wonder why busing proponents doesn't present data -at the individual student level - to support their point of view. The most granular data one sees is at the school level. This plays to the charge that low-performing students are subsumed and "hidden" by the school level state.

I'd be interested in seeing data supporting the current policy that supplies more depth than Hui's almost-every-article catch phrase "nationally recognized" diversity program. Or if getting good supporting data's a problem, then since the pharse is used often, who and what groups "nationally recognized" the program? What criteria were satisfied to receive the recognition?

I have to say, I'm impressed with the NY Times article - they provide many more references, (data, Supreme Court decision, old articles, etc.) than any I've seen in the N&O or from the school board for that matter.

I often wonder why busing

I often wonder why busing proponents doesn't present data -at the individual student level - to support their point of view. The most granular data one sees is at the school level. This plays to the charge that low-performing students are subsumed and "hidden" by the school level state."

I wonder why getting all the poor kids out of affluent schools is a prerequisite to helping them? 

As you said, we know who they are individually and can help them individually now at Leesville as well as some other school.  But they are having to wait until John can put them in a zone before we help.

You apparently haven't

You apparently haven't noticed the numerous stories that have been written over the years about how the scores have changed since they made the exams harder, how Wake stopped using race in 2000 because they thought that court rulings were going to make it harder, etc. Keep in mind that the Times story is meant to be an overview for people who are not familiar with the topic.

Can we repolarize faster than CMS?

In 2007, the court reversed itself in a decision rising out of cases in Seattle and Louisville, Ky., ruling that race could no longer be considered in school assignments. For years, lower courts had been making similar rulings. In 2002, the Charlotte school system eliminated busing for diversification, leading to rapid repolarization of schools by race and income.

 

With all the obsession with becoming CMS, maybe John can get us there faster.

In the Trenches

IN THE TRENCHES
New Sat, 02/27/2010 - 00:25 — RandyRockett
Knightdale High School is a multi-million dollar facility. It's the largest high school in North Carolina under one single roof. Many say its a modern marvel. It's a stand alone creation that past generations never knew. A recent walk through revealed signs of a school with many more years than its actual age. Graffiti in bathrooms, signs of vandalized walls, and hundreds of styrofoam lunch trays left behind on cafeteria tables by students for others to clean-up. Where's the out-cry?
Being just four or five years old, KHS continues its dismal decline with EoC "test scores" under the current swag of Carla Jernigan. KHS currently has the bottommost test scores for Wake County. Where's the out-cry?
The majority of the school population are minority students. Often the local Knightdalians send their high schoolers to Broughton, Enloe, Millbrook, Heritage and a few private Christian schools because they are not currently allowing their kids to go to "Fightdale" or "Frightdale". Where's the out-cry?
The talented teachers are dedicated, devoted, and distended. Many staffers will openly tell you of the climate and culture that lends itself only to the " inmates-running-the-asylum" syndrome. There were easily 200 kids roaming the halls (10% of the total population I believe) while the fourth block classes moved on. Basically socializing was what I saw. There was a group of seven in the stairwell was just hanging out (skipping class) and had their caps turned sideways with the stickers still on the flattened bill, pants stylishly worn between the crotch and knees, the obligatory ipod ear buds in their ears, and texting on their cell phones. One teacher closed her classroom door to the hallway interruptions because of the constant drone of conversations with a few brave enough to lean in and call out to friends. Where's the out-cry?
The real story lies in the trenches. At this point they are only rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic! Where's the out-cry?

"Where's the

"Where's the out-cry?"

Better questions would be:

Where are the administrators?

Where is the enforcement of school rules?

Where are the responsible adults demanding discipline.

Where are the phone calls to parents asking them to come pick up their unruly kids?

Where is the enforcement of dress codes? 

Time for a new principal?

Many staffers will openly tell you of the climate and culture that lends itself only to the " inmates-running-the-asylum" syndrome. There were easily 200 kids roaming the halls (10% of the total population I believe) while the fourth block classes moved on.

----------------------------------------------------------------

 School needs more effective leadership, immediately. 

Also, NAACP and CACCAACCCAAA' time would be much better spent by patrolling the halls in this school instead of organizing the marches

The majority of the school

The majority of the school population are minority students. Often the local Knightdalians send their high schoolers to Broughton, Enloe, Millbrook, Heritage and a few private Christian schools because they are not currently allowing their kids to go to "Fightdale" or "Frightdale".

This  does not bode well for the future or neighorhoods schools in Knightdale ... John would say that once you force all those folks who don't want to be there back into the school it will become a center of education excellence ... but some how I don't think so ...

The reason this story seemed

The reason this story seemed different than the one from 2005 is probably that they actually talked to families who experience the stress of this "nationally recognized school system" every day. I noticed year round school was described as "an unusual tactic".

Why don't we worry about

Why don't we worry about purging the folks who DON'T qualify for the program... Then we can worry about the ones that DO -- on a side note, just because people QUALIFY for something doesn't mean the HAVE to apply. Maybe they make ends meet and find $10 to scrape together once a week for bread, bologna, mayo and juice.

Dr. Orfield's bio indicates

Dr. Orfield's bio indicates another guy with an award for social science/social justice. California is doing soooo well educationally that they would really be the poster state for what is great in education---NOT. We have all had our fair share of social engineering and we voted for NO MORE dividing of families into different schools against our will. We want choice. It was interesting that Dr. Orfield mentioned in the linked article, ...it is unfortunate that the school district (previous board) instituted such unpopular, harsh methods (MYR, Wacky Weds).... If anyone lived in an area that would realize the value of proximaty in assignments it would be a guy working at UCLA, (traffic central indeed unless you can afford to live in Westwood.)

I have been

banging that drum for years. FRAUD.

My FIL was a teacher in an inner-city school system for YEARS (now retired). He said FLAT OUT that people lied to get the free lunch. Some of the recipients over the years were children whose parent(s) he knew personally, and he KNEW they made "enough" to not qualify. When brought to the admin's attention, they told him to shut up. "We're not allowed to verify these things..." IE: This is money in our pocket (the school, the district, the union, who knows?!)

It *IS* happening everywhere, and has been going on for some time.

And here's another question. If we KNOW it's happening (as evidenced by the article posted above) why isn't the district correcting it? Instead, they base an entire student assignment policy on it.

Govt at it's best

and why in Wake County we voted for 4 new board members to change this because of these flaws..they need to look at the child not the school!

Misleading

The most misleading thing about the story is that it is written as if Wake's diversity policy of no more than 40% free lunch students in a school is being followed. It is not. A third of the schools exceed that limit, and not by just a little. Someone should compare the number of schools in CMS that exceed 40% to the number in WCPSS. For all we know they are the same. WCPSS has this policy in writing but they do not even begin to follow it. I guess the fact that they speak with such confidence as if they are doing it tricks people into not looking. If it is horrible to have high poverty schools, then something horrible is happening and we should change it. Maybe the diversity policy would promote more success. We certainly would not be able to tell by looking at current data. We'd have to look back to some time when the diversity policy was actually implemented.

PLUS, there is a tremendous

PLUS, there is a tremendous amount of fraud (50-75%) in the F&R numbers that create so much havoc in Wake County.

fraud?

I am not aware of the fraud. Who does it? Parents or the schools? I know the schools get more money for more f/r students. Are you saying they are fraudulent? Or are you saying parents who exceed the income level lie to get free lunch. If it is the parents, they should be punished for child abuse since labeling your child as a low income child results in the school system having lower expectations and providing fewer opportunities.

If we want to know whether the income level or the low expectations and fewer academic opportunities is responsible for the lower achievement of students who receive free lunch, the fakers would make a great control group. Do they score okay?

I hope you are not assuming that because not all f/r students score below grade level, that some must be faking their income levels. Please tell me you are not using that way of thinking for logic.

And, if there is this huge fraud, how could we solve educational problems using fraudulent data? We aren't using it anyway and we are not trying to solve any problems. But I mean if we were to suddenly want to do something like implement the Board Policy 6200, would we be using fraudulent data?

Doesn't anyone care about this? Whether you care about diversity or not, no one has any chance of knowing what is going on without good information. Why is no one getting good information? 

 

 

I don't know why you are

I don't know why you are unaware of this. It is a national problem and Wake County is no different. As taxpayers we should not accept it. But in Wake County so much of what WCPSS does depends on what the F&R numbers are...and it is 50% to 75% fraudulent by many estimations.

I suppose the N&O or WRAL could spend some time investigating it, but I would not hold my breath waiting for them to do so.

sorry for length, can't post link

Carolina Journal Exclusives

There IS a Free Lunch — In Schools

Review shows many parents misstate income on school lunch forms

By David N. Bass

July 21, 2008

RALEIGH — Many families in North Carolina lie about their income when applying for the free and reduced-lunch program in public schools, and a lack of oversight by government officials allows the fraud to go unchecked, an investigation by Carolina Journal shows.

The free and reduced-lunch program, one of the federal government’s most expensive food entitlements, is meant to help low-income students succeed in the public school classroom by ensuring they have nutritious meals each day.

The $8 billion per-year school lunch program is designed for children from families having incomes at or below 185 percent of the poverty level, or for children who automatically qualify based on residential status or participation in other government aid programs.

A family of four earning $26,845 or less per year, for example, would be eligible for free meals. The same family would qualify for reduced-price meals at an annual income of $38,203 or less.

Some ineligible households, however, still receive meal benefits, according to verification summaries from four school districts obtained by CJ.

The documents show that two out of three households verified during the 2007-2008 school year had their school lunch benefits reduced or revoked because they reported incorrect income or refused to substantiate their income claims.

The results are similar for the 2006-07 school year, when 61 percent of applicants failed to respond to the verification request or provided income data that triggered reduction or revocation of meal benefits.

School districts take the verifications from about 3 percent of all approved applications. Officials first select “error prone” applicants, meaning households that have annual earnings within $1,200 of the income eligibility limitation, and then proceed to the entire pool of applicants. To verify each household, officials request documentation to justify the income level adults reported initially on the application.

CJ reviewed verification summaries from four school districts: Buncombe County Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, New Hanover County Schools, and Wake County Schools.

Thirty-two percent of applicants in the four districts had their benefits reduced or revoked after giving income evidence that differed from the amount reported on the applications, and 37 percent did not respond to the income verification request. That means nearly seven in 10 applicants could not or would not justify their income to school officials.

Conversely, 28 percent provided proof that backed up their original report of income. Another 3 percent offered evidence that increased their benefits.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools had the largest number of households, 479 out of 704 verified, which either did not respond or sent income evidence that reduced or repealed benefits. New Hanover County Schools had the largest percentage of applicants, 89 percent, whose benefits were reduced or eliminated because of non-response or differing income data.

Lynn Hoggard, section chief for Child Nutrition Services at the State Department of Public Instruction, attributed the income discrepancies to mistakes by applicants, such as misestimating weekly or monthly income.

“Where you have to be very careful is when you’re looking at a very focused sample, whose income falls very close to the income eligibility guidelines,” she said. “There are many who would say we are looking in an inequitable manner.”

No proof? No problem

Federal guidelines require adults only to self-report household income on school lunch applications. No proof of income, such as a pay stub or W-2 form, is necessary to get the benefits. That’s in contrast to other federal entitlements, including the Food Stamp Program, which require applicants to document their income status to participate.

School officials said they have scant leeway to verify income after participants join the free and reduced-lunch program. Aside from the 3 percent verification requirement, school officials can pursue verification for cause if there is evidence of fraud on an application. The districts investigated by CJ took advantage of this option only a handful of times out of tens of thousands of applications.

According to child nutrition officials in each district, Buncombe County Schools and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools conducted no verifications for cause during the last two school years. Wake County Schools verified two applicants for cause this school year and less than 10 last year, while New Hanover County Schools verified no applicants for cause this year and an unspecified number last year.

One possible deterrent to cheating on free and reduced-lunch applications is a certification statement that parents are required to sign promising that their reported income level is accurate. The statement warns that adults “may be prosecuted” if they “purposefully give false information.”

But according to Food and Nutrition Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the federal agency that oversees the free and reduced-lunch program, no parents have been prosecuted in North Carolina for falsifying information when applying.

If school officials spot possible fraud on applications, the district is responsible for reporting it to the state attorney general’s office for prosecution, according to the USDA.

School officials, however, are cautious about verifying income or pursuing potential fraud. Marilyn Bottoms Moody, senior director of Child Nutrition Services for Wake County Public Schools, said she couldn’t ask for proof of income beyond what the federal guidelines allow.

“We are mandated to do the 3 percent verification, but I can’t act beyond that,” she said. “In the past, there were a couple agencies that tried to confirm income, and they were shut down.”

Hoggard also said that federal guidelines govern the verification process. “The federal language determines the percentage that we can verify,” she said. “The instructions to our state agency have always been to pull the specific percentage. We’re instructed that over-verification is not allowable.”

A representative of the USDA disagreed, saying school officials would not be challenged for increasing the percentage of applications verified.

In addition to confusion over which governing body is responsible for prosecuting fraud, it’s unclear which penalties parents face if they are prosecuted. The application for free and reduced-lunch does not specify punishment levels or types.

In contrast, the application for food stamps in North Carolina is detailed in its description of consequences for giving fraudulent information: up to $250,000 in fines and 20 years in prison.

‘The entire process is damaged’

The free and reduced-lunch program is particularly controversial in Wake County, where the school board uses school lunch eligibility as one basis for student assignments. Supporters say that mixing students from different socioeconomic backgrounds will boost academic performance, but opponents say there is no evidence the strategy works.

According to Wake County’s free and reduced-lunch verification summary for the 2007-08 school year, 64 percent of applicants — 264 of 412 households — had their benefits reduced or revoked for failing or refusing to provide proof of income that matched the amount on the application.

The rate is even higher for the 2006-07 school year. Out of 420 applicants, 117 did not respond, and 163 responded with income data that reduced or revoked their benefits, meaning 67 percent of households failed or refused to verify their income with the school district.

“This really calls into question the school board’s assignment policies,” said Tony Gurley, a Wake County commissioner, in response to the verification data. Gurley and other county commissioners have tussled with the school board over a host of issues, including school construction funding.

“If free and reduced-lunch is not a valid indicator of socioeconomic status, then the entire process is damaged,” he said.

Ron Margiotta, a school board member representing the southwestern part of Wake County, also questioned the reliability of using free and reduced-lunch data as an indicator of poverty.

“We are busing children all over the county based on their socioeconomic status, yet it appears our system for identifying these students is flawed,” he said. “We should immediately review these numbers and our present process.”

School board member Patti Head, a supporter of the socioeconomic diversity policy, said she thought that Wake County was abiding by federal regulations on free and reduced-lunch.

“I’m not trying to pass the buck,” she said. “These numbers are interesting, but I would have to refer back to Child Nutrition Services or DPI and ask those sorts of questions of them.”

Asked whether free and reduced-lunch is an accurate indicator of family income, Head said, “I do believe free and reduced-lunch is a way of looking at a person’s socioeconomic status, and that’s why we’ve chosen it as one of the factors in our policies and procedures.”

Hoggard, however, said that school districts should use a socioeconomic factor other than free and reduced-lunch percentages to determine student assignments.

“I have a high level of confidence that students in free and reduced-lunch are eligible to be so,” she said. “When we begin to use that figure for other purposes, it takes a toll on the program. Families with children who need the food become reluctant to divulge their information for fear that it could be used in a manner they did not agree to originally.”

School districts benefit from having students in free and reduced-lunch because the program is associated with additional taxpayer dollars. Schools with a higher percentage of free and reduced-lunch students receive a larger discount on the federal government’s E-Rate program, which is meant to provide telecommunications services for schools and libraries.

David N. Bass is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.

Very interesting! I had not

Very interesting! I had not seen this. This brings in to question why free/reduced students score lower. If most of them are not really low income, then the achievement results don't tell us that low income students score lower.

Personally, I believe the kids are stamped for low expectations when they receive free lunch. And this is why they score lower. And, once free lunch, they get remedial services with Title 1 funds.

Now, it looks to me like about 60%+ of free lunch students are fakers. They are not really low income. We bus kids all over and say we do that because of our diversity policy. But a third of the schools greatly exceed the 40% f/r policy. This seems pretty close to insane.

But, the kids who fake as if they are poor score lower. No matter where these kids go to school, the low expectations for them and lack of educational opportunities (at school--not home) will cause them to score lower.

We need to just do away with free lunch. Free lunch is tied to all the causes of low achievement. Free lunch causes low achievement, in fact. Kids have to eat. We should have places their parents can pick up a week's worth of lunches for free (unrelated to school and schools can't know who qualifies). The schools should not get to know who is poor. They should have to provide remedial work to students who are below grade level, and they'd have to start identifying those students by achievement scores instead of lunch status.

So the writer assumes

that all students who qualify legitimately for free and reduced lunch have parents who filled out the forms?  Is there a chance that we have children whose parents are too lazy to even fill out the form, like the 117 that didn't even respond to the audit? 

What about the students whose parents would qualify for F/R but didn't even apply? 

There Are Students In WCPSS That Qualify but Don't Apply

There are bunch of people that don't apply and some of it might be laziness, but some parents don't want their kids classified as F&R because it means they will probably be bused all over WCPSS to help balance out the numbers at other schools.  Here's an interesting stat on the national fraud levels:

New York City Public Schools (70 percent), Los Angeles Unified School District (93 percent), Chicago Public Schools (28 percent), Miami-Dade County Public Schools (83 percent), and the Clark County School District (83 percent).

Chicago is the lowest.  Could it be because they are starting to work within a community schools model? 

Chicago's Community Schools

Now there's a model for the rest of the nation.  A graduation rate near 20% for poor minorities, a violent crime rate in the schools that exceeds that of some small cities, and two high profile teen deaths in the last two years.  Now that's a system we want to aspire to be.  It's amazing what the community school zones have done for Chicago. 

Hurry!  We need to start soon!

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About the blogger

T. Keung Hui covers Wake schools.
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