Dec. 20, 2007
At their Dec. 13 board meeting, directors of the Swann Fellowship endorsed the League of Women Voters’ “Equity Funding – A Call to Action.” The vote was unanimous.
The Call to Action seeks policy changes by the CMS school board that would better fund education at schools assigned many high-needs children.
“Policy reforms called for by the League are just a step, but an important step, toward meeting our commitments to our children,” said Swann President Leonard R. (Deacon) Jones. “The Swann board believes that CMS should correct the funding inequities spotlighted by the League.”
In 2002, when abandoning the last vestiges of its desegregation efforts, the school board committed to meet the educational needs of all children wherever they attended. The board ignored warnings from education experts that neighborhood school would concentrate poverty, give many schools an unmanageable load of high-needs students, and be the most expensive possible system if it was to succeed at educating all children.
School board members also set aside objections that separating children along lines created by the racially and socioeconomically segregated neighborhoods of Mecklenburg County was not only reprehensible and irresponsible but would ensure that thousands of children would be denied their right to a sound basic education guaranteed by the N.C. Constitution.
In pursuit of making separate more equal this time around, CMS first created a funding system that gave schools with many high-needs students some additional staff to lower class sizes and some additional money for materials. But the funds never provided parity for high-poverty schools, and growth during the year tended to push class sizes over the mandated 16-to-1 student-teacher ratios.
More recently, the board approved “weighted student funding.” The change, effective with the beginning of 2006-2007 school year, aimed at solving problems created in 2002. Instead, weighted student funding stripped many of the highest-needs schools of staff, reassigning teachers to schools with more moderate levels of poverty.
Still more recently, Supt. Peter Gorman has told League officials that the entire system of additional funding for high-needs schools will be reviewed – meaning it could disappear.
The League’s “Call to Action,” approved in November 2007, reads as follows:
Equity Funding – A Call to Action
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system faces profound challenges educating children who live in poverty.
Concentrations of children living in poverty have resulted in majority-poverty schools that are failing to educate large numbers of children.
I/We the undersigned endorse a system of distributing human and financial resources to majority-poverty schools which:
- Establishes significantly smaller class sizes in majority-poverty schools at all levels. Elementary class sizes should not exceed 16 students.
- Provides enough classrooms to house students in smaller class sizes.
- Ensures that majority-poverty schools have a comparable mix of novice, experienced, and National Board Certified/Master’s degree teachers when compared to schools identified as high-achieving schools in CMS.
- Provides staff development opportunities comparable to those available to teachers in schools with well-funded PTA’s.
- Provides sufficient social service support to promote family involvement and to help students and families cope with the stresses of homelessness and poverty.
- Adds significant resources to schools with a majority of students living in poverty. These funds should cover needs generally covered by PTAs such as spending allowances for teachers, band equipment, and extended field trips (for example, Raleigh, Washington).
- Sets baseline standards for supporting high-achieving students, including full-time talent development staff and a comparable range of accelerated, scholars, and AP courses in every school.
- Provides funding for extra curricular activities such as Science Olympiad, and transportation to academic competitions typically available in high-achieving schools.
- Provides funding for staff coordinator to build partnerships with neighborhood associations, businesses, faith groups, and other organizations necessary to provide volunteers and mentors sufficient to support all students in need of this extra support.
- Provides additional stepwise staffing and financial support, as needed, to schools where 70%, 80%, and 90% of students live in poverty.
- Provides additional support for schools approaching majority poverty and/or with large numbers of students living in poverty, even if the percentage of students living in poverty is below 50%. Providing significant additional resources at 40%-45% may, in fact, prevent more high poverty schools.
I/We urge the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education to adopt a multi-step equity template and abandon weighted student staffing/funding. We believe that such a step will provide clarity about conditions necessary for success, focus resources where they are most needed, and establish a framework for accountability. Our research confirms that a fully funded equity template, meeting the standards listed above, will facilitate closing the achievement gap by truly providing equitable educational opportunities for all children at every school in CMS.