Thursday, February 13, 2020

NC: Can Fed Money Get Charters To Accept Poor Students

North Carolina's charter schools have some issues, such as draining resources from public schools and increasing segregation in a state that has not exactly set a high standard for de-segregation. White flight segregation academies are turning into charters, and they're also looking at district secession (white flight via redrawing school district boundaries).

But the federal government has awarded North Carolina a pile of money for-- well, here it's called "a statewide initiative to help meet the needs of educationally disadvantaged students" and here it's called "federal funding to help increase enrollment in charter schools, particularly for children from low-income groups" and here it's called "$36.6 million to increase the number of 'educationally disadvantaged students' attending charter schools."

You get the idea. Federal money is supposed to get charters to accept more poor students.

This is.... odd. If the whole point of charters is to give poor students the sort of choices that are available to wealthier families, why is it that North Carolina charters are apparently not providing those choices? "Economically disadvantaged students" (I love some good bureaucratic euphemisms) are the majority of the NC pub lic school population. In charters, they are 18.8%. It makes one wonder what the barrier might be, and why federal money is needed to breach it.

NC set up a whole program called ACCESS to award grants from the grant to "increase the EDS population in charter schools," and the applicants for the grant are required to show a variety of strategies, including a marketing and recruitment plan, a school climate plan, a transportation plan, and SMART goals including how the school will eliminate barriers. There's also a requirement for a weighted lottery, which would seem to indicate that poor families make a disproportionate portion of applicants in the first place.

This doesn't really address the mystery here. Did NC charters just end up with barriers to poor students because of some  natural, organic process, or did they those barriers up themselves? Is the ACCESS grant supposed to help breach that barriers that charters found themselves surrounded by for no apparent reason, or are the grants a bribe to induce charters to take down the barriers that they created on their own. Are they suggesting that poor students are more expensive to educate and their business plans depend on not spending that sort of money on their charter students? In which case, is North Carolina just saying that all that noise about providing choices for all students is actually baloney? Or as a school board member put it:

It concerns me why there would be additional taxpayer money to remind charter schools to do the thing that they were originally intended for: to serve economically disadvantaged students.

ACCESS is not exactly setting North Carolina on fire. In the first round, a dozen charters applied fro grants. There are almost 200 charter schools in the state. This year the number is up. The charters are saying that they want to be diverse; they are not explaining why they can't just, you know, do it without grant money.

North Carolina has gotten a lot of things wrong when it comes to education, and this seems like more of that. However, there is one other wrinkle here-- the federal grant we've been talking about is from the federal charter grant program that has been zeroed out of existence and folded into a grant with twenty-some other education programs in the Trump budget. If Congress doesn't reverse that, ACCESS may find itself strapped for cash and Norh Carolina charters might have to start serving poor families without any extra federal grants to reward them.

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