Neighborhood Schools in Wake Would Cause Massive Overcrowding, Concentrations of Poor Students

According to a white paper released by the Wake Education Partnership today, an assignment plan in Wake County that abandons the magnet school policy and sent students to their nearest schools would cause “dozens of capacity problems.” A move to abandon year-round schools would greatly compound the enormous capacity problems such a change in assignment policy would cause.

The Wake Education Partership is a non-partisan non-profit organization dedicated to a world class school system in Wake and receives significant support from local business.

Among the key findings of an assignment system based on students attending the nearest school:

* 43 elementary schools would be over capacity if all elementary schools went to a traditional calendar; Wilburn would be over 300% of capacity; Wake Forest, Brentwood, Vance and Olive Elementary Schools would be over 200% of capacity. Assuming a year-round calendar remains in place, 33 elementary schools would be over capacity.

* Under a traditional calendar, 10 middle and 6 high schools would be over capacity.

* Overcapacity schools would not only be confined to downtown. Mapping of the schools reveals these schools would appear in suburban locations where neighborhoods are dominated by ’empty nesters’.

* Growth patterns, and land and construction costs will add problems in the future. The report concludes: “Given the amount of land needed and the spiraling costs for new schools, it may never be possible to assign all families in western Wake County to their closest schools.”

* Many schools would experience a profound shift in the composition of their student body. This would have clear geographic patterns, with the appearance of high poverty schools in central and eastern Wake County, and low poverty schools in western and northern Raleigh. Under a closest school assignment system:

– 32 elementary schools would have at least 50% of their students on a free or reduced lunch, i.e. from low-income or poor households. Currently there are 21. 10 elementary schools would have over 70% of their students on a free or reduced lunch – Powell, Fuller, Poe, Washington, Hunter, Brentwood, Bugg, Creech Road, Carver and Walnut Creek. There are currently no elementary schools with such a high concentration of students from low-income and poor households.

– 9 middle schools would have over 50% of the students on free or reduced lunch. Currently, there are four such schools. Three middle schools would have over 70% of students on free and reduced lunches – Carnage, Ligon and Moore.

– Two high schools would have more than 50% free and reduced lunch – Southeast Raleigh High and Enloe. Currently there are none.

– In moving towards this pattern of poor and wealthy schools, 10 elementary, 5 middle and 2 high schools would have at least a 20% greater share of their student population on free or reduced lunches. 4 elementary and 4 middle schools would have more than a 40% increase in the share of poor students.

Clearly the overcrowding caused by a closest school policy would cause severe budget problems due to new building costs alone and trigger a second round of re-assignments to nearest under capacity schools. What this would mean is that some elementary schools inside the Beltline that are under-capacity, for instance, would experience a large influx of free and reduced lunch students from over-capacity schools in the same area. This could result in the formation of 3 or 4 more elementary schools with more than 70% on free and reduced lunch.

The Wake Education Partnership report is sobering. If the current Wake school board think it is a good idea to isolate and crowd a high percentage of Wake’s poor children into a few schools, especially young children into high poverty elementary schools, then they are either ignorant of the scholarship on the effects of high poverty schools on the achievement of poor children in those schools, do not care about poor children, or both.

Given the thousands of student re-assignments a neighborhood school policy would prompt, the obvious immediate cost of these kinds of plans plus the long-term social and economic costs associated with high poverty schools, the Wake school board majority needs to seriously re-think its goals, strategies and tactics.

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