Monday, May 27, 2013

Fair share from CMS?

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour last week asked Superintendent Heath Morrison for a breakdown of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools spending by voting district. Such a breakdown,  he said,  might help address concerns that lead some people to talk about splitting the countywide district into smaller ones.

Ridenhour, a Republican elected last year,  is jumping into a longstanding debate over the fairness of how and where CMS spends its money.  The gist:  Schools in low-income neighborhoods get extra money to help overcome student disadvantages.  They tend to have higher per-pupil spending than suburban schools,  partly because of that extra aid and partly because suburban schools are generally larger,  spreading basic operating costs among more kids.  But residents of more affluent zones tend to pay more in property taxes,  leading to rumblings about unfairness.

Morrison,  who started the CMS job in July,  said he'll try to answer Ridenhour's question.  I'll be curious to see what he comes up with.

His predecessor,  Peter Gorman,  calculated per-pupil spending at each school as part of a CMS equity report.  The county has used those numbers to create a per-pupil average for each district.

But Morrison's crew didn't do an equity report and hasn't released updated per-pupil spending numbers.

And as County Commissioner George Dunlap,  a Democrat and former school board member,  noted,  school locations don't correspond to services that residents of a voting district receive.  Many students live in one district and attend school in another,  especially if they're in magnet or alternative schools.

"This is one community,"  Dunlap said.  "I don't think we ought to be trying to split it up by district."

One of the drawbacks of covering education for more than a decade is that some of the back-and-forth starts to feel like watching an old married couple argue.  County Commissioner Bill James, an accountant and a Republican, has been arguing for years that CMS gets too much money and doesn't provide enough results.  This time around,  he didn't seem to find the energy for critiquing the numbers.

"I just don't really feel that educational achievement is getting better,"  James said after watching a presentation on CMS academic gains.  "Maybe it's a lack of PR on the part of CMS."

"Feelings are not facts,"  responded Dunlap.  "Just because you feel a certain way doesn't make it true."

Dunlap urged his colleagues to look at the data and see how much progress CMS has made toward narrowing the performance gaps between black, Hispanic and white students and between poor and middle-class students.

At the risk of being a party-pooper  --  and the even bigger risk of getting in the middle of a political spitting match  --  I'd note that those numbers aren't as meaningful as they look.  That's because the CMS charts compare results from 2008,  when students took state exams only once,  with those from 2012,  when students who failed the first time retook the test.  The state launched that requirement in 2009,  and the result was an immediate jump in pass rates.  Groups that had more students falling just below the grade-level cutoff  (such as black, Hispanic and low-income students)  saw big gains,  while the change was smaller for groups where most students passed on the first try  (white, Asian and middle-class students).

At the time, Gorman blasted the retesting as artificial inflation of results.  For the first couple of years he offered comparisons of pass rates before and after the retest bump.

That's probably not practical now.  But if CMS wants to make a fair comparison,  all it has to do is use 2009,  rather than 2008,  as the baseline.  If the gaps have still narrowed,  it says something about student achievement,  not just changing rules.


Anonymous said...

Don't worry...we all know Morrison got his new shiny 300k job based on clearly inflated and gamed numbers in Reno. Don't think the Wizzard won't do it here.

Anonymous said...

"But residents of more affluent zones tend to pay more in property taxes, leading to rumblings about unfairness."

For years residents of "more affluent zones", i.e. the suburbs, have been accused of being selfish, racist, etc. by some in the press, local activists, and various elected officials. Suburbanites were told it was unfair that their schools did so well and that success was only because of minimal diversity. The general impression given was that suburban schools received higher funding and many more perks than more urban schools. Many believed all of this (longing for a return to the utopia of busing) and thus the so-called "urban/suburban split" was born. It really is little wonder that once facts about funding were finally revealed many suburbanites became angry. Why would they want to be part of CMS when they have been routinely portrayed as the evil force in the community, and are only valued for being the cash cow for the system?

Anonymous said...

Where I grew up you went to school where you lived. If you lived in a crappy part of town then you went to a crappy school. IF you went to a crappy school then you and your parents tries harder so you could move. Society will always have crappy parts of town. The moochers will always want more free stuff. I say too bad. You can't fix stupid.

Anonymous said...

Once again the facts come out. Kids don't go to school in their neighborhood school. Thus running the costs of busing up this must stop. You opt out of your neighborhood school great you have that option , but your providing your own transportation. This goes for magnets as well I don't care. Ride hour knows nothing about CMS and is just fishing for numbers he has no kids involved. Rookie in his term very close to Cotham already the two of them will be gone in a few years. Then again so won't Morrison so nothing new in the region politics.

Wiley Coyote said...

For funding data to mean something it has to accurate.

Nothing coming from CMS in my opinion is accurate since most of the data is skewed by fraud.

Until the school lunch program is FULLY audited and accurate information is provided to the district by the recipients and those gaming the system are kicked off, CMS and the BOCC is just spitting in the wind.

The achievement gap is a pie in the sky elusive entity that will never close. Based on the past few years data, it will take at least another 15 years to "close", if then.

My guess is that if it does close, voodoo accounting will make it so.

BolynMcClung said...


……."the money follows the child" when it comes to tracking which district gets what.

And behind it all is the too flawed principle that if a child is on Free and Reduced Lunch programs his early childhood learning suffered……in 100% of the cases.

In a way George is very right. Take a look at the UNCC Quality of Life Study. Its map for the urban school districts shows an outflow of student from their home schools to magnets programs………that include the magnets for good and bad behavior. What that map says is parents don't have faith in neighborhood schools……so what good is Mr. Ridenhour's question?

Mr. Ridenhour is under a bad misunderstanding about the "Guiding Principals" for student assignment. The rules mean nothing. CMS will never be a neighborhood school system……unless all the schools become so bad(oops, or good) that no parent believes the grass is greener on the other side.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, Bolyn, but are those magnets in suburban districts? In the vast majority of cases I don't think so. Thus the individual per pupil expenditures are being moved between urban districts, not around the entire county. Because of the long standing theory held in some quarters that the 'burbs are getting it all or that they are not paying their fair share, I think it would be quite informative to see how much income is derived from each district and how much is spent on schools in each district. Of course that exercise would have to be premised on each district having an equal number of residents. Is that actually the case? When I looked a few years ago districts 2, 3, and 4 had much lower populations than the suburban districts (but each district of course had one vote no matter what their population).

sanitizer said...

The testing should be weighted to give additional points to minorities , just like they receive preferential treatment in the real world. That should reduce the difference. Add 20 points to their scores as an adjustment. Voila, everybody's happy.

BolynMcClung said...

TO: ANON 3:22


At Board meeting after Board meeting all but one of the members are pushing more Magnets and most are in the suburbs.

They even want another "Morgan" school to serve the northern-end of the county.

Magnet, Magnet, Magnets.

Everything from STEAM to Nursing to Automotive to Aeronautics. This is not your Civil Rights 1980 Magnet. This is Magnet spelled "Technical and Vocational Education."

Mark my word, if the current board is re-elected this November, not only will there be Magnets north, south, east and west; you will see all the Title I schools become feeders for local employment agencies placing hourly workers.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...


Reduce the number of FRL students and CMS loses money.

That's why there is no incentive to weed out the fraud.

Anonymous said...

I live in one of those "affluent" suburbs and I have a graduate from Northwest School of the Arts now attending Chapel Hill and another one there as well. There are few issues there and kids from all walks of life get along very well because they all have a common reason to WANT to be there. The suburb school is like a bad dream clique - you are either a barbie doll cheerleader or a jock, or you are just not cool. I am glad my kids have had a superior High School experience at NWSA, and as the graduate said - I am going to college in Chapel Hill with friends from the neighborhood school and the IB magnet. I think technical training schools are a great idea for those that could and should be learning trades. College isn't for everyone, nor should it be.

Anonymous said...

Let's not generalize about all suburban high schools, 4:48. At my child's suburban high school there were plenty of jock and cheerleader types but the high scoring academic kids were considered pretty cool too (and there was a pretty good size group of them). My child went on to a very selective college and was able to relate well to most everyone he met there, even though he was a "southern boy". No one school in Charlotte has the monopoly on virtue--every school has its strengths and its weaknesses, and not every school suits every child. Teaching your child to be smug about his high school choice is not doing him any favors.

I do agree strongly with you about the tech training issue.

Anonymous said...

Ann sorry to be so critical but the piece on NC and CMS MSL Exams lacked in quality. It simply resonated the same CMS downtown Kool Aide that has become par for the course. I eagerly awaited the article yet was miserably disappointed at the lack of depth and clarity that you and the Observer owe the public. Relying on people like Dr. Morrison and Frank Barnes for actual details on the whole process shows little to no effort on you and your staffs behalf to let the public know what is really going on. The lip service from Meck ACTS is the best you and your staff can do??

Anonymous said...

What's even more disheartening is the fact that many schools considered " affluent" have more students from high poverty house holds than the schools we always read about in the paper. Great example is Myers Park. Over 900 students come from poverty yet people assume that because it is MPHS there is no need for additional support. The reality is that MP has a high need for support than schools like WC or Garringer based on numbers. Furthermore, the public often cites high levels of financial support from PTSA or PTSO 's yet often overlook the fact that many of these so called affluent schools send 10 to 20 percent of their funding to high need schools. This dude has hit the nail on the head. Lets see the numbers.

Anonymous said...

Ann, once we see the numbers, can you please do a comparison of per-resident property taxes in each district?

I would be willing to bet that residents in affluent districts pay 30 or 40% more in property taxes, but get 30 or 40% lower per-pupil spending for their extra tax contributions.

CMS Sucks said...

Since when does the color of your skin have absolutely anything to do with how well you do in school. How about you put some of the blame on the parents for once. When you look at what crappy parents some people are you start to understand why the student doesn't do well. CMS needs to be split is a bloated whale dead on the beach and has been that way for decades. Right now the education you get from CMS is crap pure and simple, it you don't believe it, go take a 100 level class at CPCC and watch how these kids act. This is the reason my children will be Homeschooled!!!!

Anonymous said...

Let's hope the "Guiding Principals" don't reelect the current school board. All up for election need to go!
Louise Woods needs to go (I'm sorry I mean Tom Tate), Rhonda - definitely (Christine? you there??) All of 'em, leaving Ericka, Mary, and Tim. Need to have a good crew in place to pick the next super after Re-Pete blows town next year. Don't think so? Look at how many are leaving the sinking ship...vacuum at the top is coming quickly...

BolynMcClung said...


You're incorrect on the funding issue. The School Board and staff hang-on to FRL as "the best predictor of under achievement." This is something I disagree on....but they each have one of the nine votes.

You're also incorrect about it being financial. My opinion is that a budget sans FRL data would still be the same size.

My chief concern is that FRL incorrectly identifies good students as poor ones. That's the waste.

FRL being used to identify underperformers after the 3rd grade makes no sense. I'd use report cards....but hey, what do I know?

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...


Let's see, I'm incorrect, but to you it's an opinion?

I agree with your first assessment but not the second.

This today from Indianapolis. We should look at doing the same thing in NC.

Maybe we can't tell the USDA to shove their 3% audit rule, but there are other ways to stop fraud:

News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 27, 2013

Free lunch won’t serve as poverty indicator

Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is changing the way it counts low-income students in public schools because Republican legislators suspect fraud in the federal school-lunch program used to measure poverty.

Tucked inside the budget bill passed by the General Assembly last month is a provision that ends the use of the program to determine levels of poverty-based funding for school districts after next year.

Instead, the state’s textbook assistance program, which provides free schoolbooks to low-income children, will be used to calculate how much additional money the state gives schools to help educate children most at-risk for failure.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley said he and other GOP legislative leaders have “lost confidence” in the accuracy of the federal school lunch program as an indicator of poverty.

“There’s no accountability in the federal program,” Kenley said.

The change is significant: Of the $6.6 billion in state funds that go to K-12 schools in Indiana, about $1 billion of it is directly tied to the federal school lunch program: The more students that a school enrolls in the program, the more state money the school district gets.

But little accountability is in place: By law, the state can’t audit the federal program to see if families are falsely reporting their incomes so their children can get the free or reduced-cost meals.

And the state can’t require schools to verify the information either. Parents aren’t required to provide any proof of their income when they apply for the program.

But the state can require schools to verify the family incomes of children who get free textbooks through the state’s textbook assistance program. The eligible income level is about the same for both: Up to 130 percent of the federal poverty level (about $29,000 for a family of four.)

“We can’t audit the federal program, but we can audit the state program,” said Republican Rep. Jeff Thompson of Danville, a retired schoolteacher who pushed for the change.

Using FRL as an indicator for anything related to education is useless data.

Anonymous said...

Good one Wiley,
Unfortunately CMS doesn't charge for textbooks or
i-Pads until someone tries to graduate. Cell phone records or BYOT as an alternative? Very few students don't have one except in the lower grades.

Wiley Coyote said...


Correct, however, if the state or Mecklenburg County is giving CMS any extra funding for "poverty students", then use the same process and require verification you qualify for the extra funding.

Anonymous said...

As a parent in the suburbs, I don't mind so much that I pay more in taxes. What really steams me is that suburban schools get so much less per student. The funding per student needs to be the same for all children in CMS.

Anonymous said...

CMS needs to do what other school districts around the country are are doing-charge for transportation if your child does not go to their neighborhood school.

Wiley Coyote said...


We all already pay for transportation, whether you have kids in school or not.

They're called taxes.

If any child attends a magnet program, they should be provided transportation just like everyone else who qualifies.

What about "poverty students" who attend magnets? Should they pay for transportation?

Rosa fernandez said...

Hi there WC, absolutely bus users should pay a fee to use the service. Keep the money at the school where it belongs. if you want Susie and Johnny to go to a Magnet, you pay to supplement the additional busing costs. (BTW, it costs $400/year to bus a neighborhood school child, it costs $1200/year to bus a Magnet child).

Wiley Coyote said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wiley Coyote said...


And how much has it cost for 40 years to keep paying more money to low income students and their offspring and their offspring and so on because they don't get it?

There are many low income students in magnet programs so how do they pay for transportation?

You should go to the next Board meeting and suggest all magnets be scrapped.

I'll see your tax dollars and raise you 10% more to fund magnet busing.