Monday, November 7, 2011

CMS poverty up again

The districtwide poverty level for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has nudged up one percentage point,  to 54.4 percent this year,  according to a new report on students eligible for lunch subsidies.

The numbers show poverty increasing at all grade levels.  The new preK-8 schools,  created when CMS closed three high-poverty middle schools,  range from 87 percent poverty at Ashley Park to 95 percent at Reid Park.

Harding High, which used to be a full magnet and picked up neighborhood students when Waddell High closed, rose almost 16 percentage points, to 79 percent poverty.  South Meck,  which also added former Waddell students,  rose 8 percentage points,  to 43 percent.  North Meck,  which is seeing its demographics shift because of the opening of nearby Hough High,  rose 11 points to 54.5 percent poverty.

The use of lunch-subsidy numbers to gauge school poverty remains controversial.  The guidelines, set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,  allow a family of four with an income up to $29,055 a year to get free lunches;  up to $41,348 a year,  children from that family would get lunch for 40 cents instead of the full $2.05.  Students who get either free or reduced-price meals are counted as economically disadvantaged.  The USDA sets strict guidelines for how districts can monitor and verify eligibility;  some say those numbers should not be used for other purposes,  such as allocating extra teachers and academic aid,  because they are not more rigorously checked.


Anonymous said...

"some say those numbers should not be used for other purposes..."

Funny, but I can remember when Social Security Numbers weren't supposed to be used for ID purposes, too.

And some people still don't believe in slippery slopes, even as they sell the skis to go down them.

Larry said...

Seems that a lot of help is being needed in the country:

Food Stamps are at an all time high as shown by this report:

And more American's are living in Poverty than ever before as shown by this report:

Now is that not something after all these years of programs and government intervention?

I know why not try no excuses education and choices that put the power of education right in the hands of the Parents and let's see if education will get us out of this mess and if that is the key?

We already tried it for too long the same sad old way.

Anonymous said...

It's because CMS has gotten to be such a bloated political cesspool. People that can, or can make the sacrifice, are eating the private school tuition bullet just to get away from it. So all that is left are the leser off that are being served by the political machine that's searching for ways to beat its chest.

Anonymous said...

And next year poverty will be up again at CMS. Why? Because the district's method of allocating funds means that parents will either home school their kids, send them to private schools or move to another county. It doesn't take a genius to see that what CMS is doing is not working, and that many teachers think of themselves as factory foreman and their schools as cotton mills rather than educators

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:21,

If you think the factory foreman mentality is bad now, just wait and see who gets elected tomorrow.

Among the candidates running is Mary McCray, who is the outgoing boss of the local teacher's union.

Some people claim that North Carolina "does not have unions." But on its web site, the NCAE describes itself as "Union representing teachers in the State." The NCAE does not have collective bargaining rights, but they are still very much a union. They have a large war chest of cash that they use to lobby for union friendly policies. Tomorrow we'll see if they can get their local union boss elected to board of education.

Wiley Coyote said...


Here it is November 7th and to my knowledge, CMS had not released the current School Lunch numbers.

I asked for thos over a month ago and was told it would be October.

It's now November.

How is it a school district can get a "20 day emrollment number" but can't get a handle on who and how many students get a free or reduced lunch?

...the madness continues

BolynMcClung said...


…. poverty is not a blanket statement of the inability to achieve..

Unfortunately, CMS still operates under the premise that spending to raise low achievement that is poverty driven is more beneficial than spending to raise low achievement that isn’t poverty driven. It is at the heart of why areas like District 4 have all Title I schools with the exception of one. It is impossible for me to believe that every child there is a low performer.

That attitude has some benefits, no doubt. But it is destructive and pits neighbor against neighbor.

Bolyn McClung

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:21.

How do you know that what CMS is doing is NOT working?

It may be working exactly as planned to get just the results you described.

Get the smart kids and parents to leave the schools and you get rid of a lot of the complainers and shrink that "performance gap" as well.

Pretty soon the "public" schools will be "educating" those bound for the low-skilled McJobs of the future where their methods just might be best suited.

Keep focusing on those bottom-feeders.

They are our nation's future.

Bleak as it may seem.

Kevin M said...

Ms. Helms,

I have to question using FRL data to draw any conclusions about poverty in CMS.

FRL is widely considered to be wrought with fraud.

See "There IS a Free Lunch"

Using that data alone as your basis for the claim of high levels of poverty at CMS seems dubious and perhaps a bit biased in your presentation of the topic.

Anonymous said...

While I highly respect your reporting most of the time this is one issue that you and the Observer fail to report properly about, and it disappoints me greatly. The numbers reflecting how many students get F/RL mean just that, and nothing more. They likely represent little about the actual level of "poverty" in CMS. The F/RL program is one where anyone can apply, make true or untrue representations, and CMS gives the F/RL away.
The program may have up to 60% fraudulent recipients and the income level to "qualify" is almost double what most folks think of as "living in poverty" by the federal government. To think that you can make any meaningful observation of poverty (it increased in CMS by 1 percentage point) by looking at F/RL numbers is completely faulty logic, science, or math. The numbers of those living in poverty per the federal government may well have gone down or up, and might be, for a school with 80% F/RL, be in the 25% to 50% range. A challenged school for sure, but the F/RL numbers tell us NOTHING about what is really happening with the poverty level of students in any given school or the system. Please stop representing these numbers as having meaning beyond just what they are...the percentage of students being given F/RL, whether they really qualify or not.

Dale Johnson

Anonymous said...

I agree with the other posters...the FRL program numbers have been proven time and time again to be fraudulent but no one within CMS or within the USDA care one bit.

I wrote the USDA re the abuse and finally reached a Director responsible for the program, Scott Carter, (703 305 2313), who said all the right things and promised to look into but never did.

Those who are outraged about this please call or email him

If there are enough voices perhaps they will finally look into it...

Wiley Coyote said...

Bolyn considers the USDA Lunch Program to be the best Fedral Program.

Ok so what do you base that on?

The fact they overpaid benefits last years to the tune of $1.5 BILLION DOLLARS and project to overspend $1.6 BILLION this year?

I guess if you compare the lunch program to Medicare and Medicaid fraud, it is a bargain!

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

.....Harvard study says poverty doesn’t explain away low American math scores
.By Liz Goodwin
National Affairs Reporter
| The Lookout – Mon, Aug 22, 2011...

America's child poverty problem does not entirely explain away its students' relatively low math scores, says a report from Harvard's Program on Education Policy and Governance.

Researchers analyzed scores from the International Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) test, which is given in 65 countries.

Julian Cuthbertson said...

I applaud any school system that is scam free for their efforts to educate America's children. Perfection is what we strive for but we will never quite reach that mark. There will always be nay-sayers and critics of education and half of them have never been seen close to their child's school.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Wiley, I'm confused by your first comment. These ARE the current school lunch numbers; just click the link in the first paragraph. They call it "economically disadvantaged students" now because somehow it's considered a breach of confidentiality to talk about students' lunch status. Thus you now have the bizarre euphemisms "EDS free" and "EDS reduced."

Dale, I get that this isn't a perfect measure of poverty, but it's what school districts across the country use as a rough measure of poverty. FRL and EDS are acronyms not widely understood by readers. Thus, I generally talk about poverty and follow up by saying it's measured by eligibility for lunch subsidies.

Wiley Coyote said...


My apologies...

I did not notice there was a hyperlink within the story, as it is barely discernable on my laptop.

I went back and looked again and saw it.

BolynMcClung said...


re: FRL - Best Federal Program

This country has many programs, like FRL, that target small parts of the population. Let's look at one: Prisons

The States and Fed build more and more prisons. But getting people into them is a struggle. A combination of poor defenses, poor prosecutions, poor policework, bad juries and judges either put in the wrong people or exclude crooks. You could even say the laws are suspect. It is the model of corruption and inefficiency. Other examples are government bids, immigration policy, tax codes and redistricting.

But FRL is clean-cut. Fill-out a form. Get a meal. Fraud – could be, no doubt. But very efficient. There is one middle-man: the schools. That middle-man has one job and it isn’t law enforcement.

The USDA watches its school house managers like a hawk. There is one mission: feed children. Unless you believe parents are encouraging their children to smuggle Mac and Cheese out of the lunchrooms in their book bags, adults aren’t filling their bellies on this public program. Making folks jump through hoops that take weeks is counter productive to the mission. Hunger doesn’t wait for paperwork.

But the USDA also has a policy that it will not let individual recipients be singled out. When you consider all the crap and backstabbing that goes on in politics it is note worthy they’ve been able to protect their clients so well. The cost may be the fraud you speak of, but to me is just the cost of that protection.

Your beef is with CMS and about 30% of the schools nationwide over using the data in an unintended way. It is not the USDA’s mission to spank the hand of school districts for this. Redirection of funds, yes; bad logic no!

CMS is convinced the correlation between FRL and low achievement is the strongest data they have. They probably wish the PfP/TEP data was so good.

Here’s your mission. You and four of your friends get on the school board and rewrite all the policies that convert FRL numbers to school budgets. It’s that simple.

Bolyn McClung

Wiley Coyote said...


School districts across this country are benefitting from the fraud, some actually bump up their numbers who are close to the cutoff in order to get the same funds they've had, otherwise they lose teachers and other programs.

I'm not sure what part of $1.5 billion in overpayments you don't understand.

My beef is flat out fraud, which leads to other waste such as free sports, free testing, free school supplies etc, when potentially, 60% DO NOT QUALIFY FOR.

We all have to pay federal taxes. Do you think the feds would sit back and say shhh....let's not audit anyone?

I don't care to know which individual who truly needs the help and gets it.

I want to kick off the ones who DO NOT qualify.

I want to get to the group of students who truly qualify and focus the money and extra help on them, instead of trying to include everyone who says they need the help which dilutes the help for the other group.

We can all hope the the little test Arne Duncan and the USDA are conducting in Chicago doesn't go throughm where they are offereing ALL kids, whether they can afford lunch or not - FREE lunches if the poverty number at that school is over 40%.

I'd love to know where you're going to come up with those tens of millions....

Fill out a form - get a meal.

That is exactly the status quo moronic thinking that got us into this mess.

Anonymous said...

Where is Joyce at now, Wadell took 3 scholls down

Anonymous said...

Wait a minute...I don't understand. The great (not) social democrate Lyndon Vietnam Johnson said 'give me 6 bil and I'll end poverty'....That was what? 45 years and countless tillions ago. Is someone admitting that despite the late great (not) demos claim, that poverty still exists in this country? Oh well, if you are just a little more patient and throw a little more money at it...just sayin.

Anonymous said...

Wiley Coyote:

The other fact the Harvard study you mentioned barely touches on is the fact that S. Korea has a higher poverty level than the US and still outperforms us in Math.

This type of behavior flies in the face of the heavily Euro-centric, western liberal views of those in the OECD (which supervise PISA) that poverty is the root of all evil.

The term PISA has invented for those poor Asians who do better than their richer European cousins is "RESILIENT".

Of course, European liberals are just as skittish about claims of one "culture" or "race" being better than another since Germany went ape back in the 1930's.

But those nasty facts keep popping up that say differently.

And "some people" are just more "resilient" than others.

Anonymous said...

So the parents of 54% of CMS students accept public assistance to feed their own children, saying they can not come up with $360 per year to feed a student.

And they hire PhDs to discover why those children have lower academic achievement?

Anonymous said...

My dad left my mom, my brother, and me 2 weeks before I began kindergarten. My mom had a job, my dad wouldn't pay child support. We were FRL for a long while. My mom never used that as an excuse for anything. She sat us at the kitchen table to do homework, took us to museums on the free days, took us to the library, and made sure we brought home good grades--or else. I earned scholarships to college and my brother completed numerous certifications for his line of work--he makes 4-5x more than I do and I have a BA and an MS. I can not imagine WHY FRL is used as an excuse for underachieving by students and parents and pundits... As people, we make choices and my mom chose to not let her kids be lazy, whiney, co-dependent good for nothings--FRL status be darned!

Anonymous said...

If people only knew how much food kids throw away every day in the cafeteria. If a student qualifies for free/reduced lunch, they must be hungry, right? I see unopened packages and unopened milk boxes thrown away daily. Maybe they are not really hungry. The guidelines for the program need to be changed so that everyone has to pay something.

BolynMcClung said...

TO: Anon 4:59p

Your example is a point I've made many times in print and in discussions. Divorce, separation or death of a spouse that instantly throws a family into the FRL program have little to do with the effects of early childhood poverty.

Since half of families end up in one of these situations it is likely the FRL numbers,while fairly accurate, when used for CMS budgeting is a couple of standard deviations off.

Thanks for your story. Eventually school systems wanting to use FRL data for budgeting will find it worthwhile to find a way to work around the USDA's firm rules.

I really hope so.

Bolyn McClung

therestofthestory said...

Would have been nice to see BB as a separate comparison/report line instead of included in the whole school population.

Boyln, still not sure why you thing FRL is the best federal program. The why you explained it to WC just indicated the simpleness to defraud the system. And yes I know school cafeterias depend heavily on having a high population of FRL to keep close to even. Larry may have had a point where every CMS student should have filled out an application. It is discriminatory not to give every student an application.

And WC has his/her point too that the census data proves there is a greater than 50% fraud rate and past "sample audits" have proven as high as a 62% fraud rate. What is unquestionable is the close set of numbers of DSS certified FRL applications and the census numbers of poverty in this county. And remember, some of those do not go to CMS but have financial assistance for private schools through vouchers.

What is eye opening is to sit in on one of these sessions county employees and community organizations run on how to fill out applications for welfare.

BolynMcClung said...

OK, I'll try again.

If schools didn't exist, there would still be a need for FRL.

FRL was born, not that school children could do better in school because of hot meals, but as the U.S. entered WWII the biggest cause for rejecting men for service was under developed bodies due to poor diets. America was starving.

After the war, FRL was part of America's plan to be the number one nation in the World. Feeding kids in school was the vehicle to deliver democracy. Whether you supported diplomacy from B-52 bombers or The Peace Corp it all started with the Pledge of Allegiance and good food everyday for school children.

It wasn't until the very late 1960's that FRL became more closely tied to the desired results of the Civil Rights Movement. Later in the 90’s it got a little stronger association. But with the 2006 decision that race couldn’t be used for school assignment, FRL mathematics madness became the disease it is.

So much for the history lesson.

America will always need a program like FRL. The best way to make it work is to keep it separated from all this educational, cause and effect, mumbo-jumbo. That’s not likely to happen.

It's not as if the FRL program is run like Defense Department contracts where everything is overstated. Agriculture products are the least expensive part of GDP. If everyone in public schools got a free lunch it would still pale to our foreign aid budget. Call FRL our miniscule foreign aid program for Americans.

I understand all of your complaints. "It ain't fair." Well I agree: I just don't care. The benefits out weigh the sorry parts.

Local school administrators aren't stupid. If they didn't have to deal with the USDA's regulations on anonymous distribution, they are and would be more than capable of executing what you want them to acknowledge.

To use a food analogy, when it comes to education problems, there are bigger fish to fry than this.

Bolyn McClung

therestofthestory said...

Yes Bolyn I agree there are bigger fish to fry but when this simple thing shows the ineptitude of our leadership to simply attack the fraud, we tend to distrust them in everything else they touch. Remember we are not talking about eliminating the program, only the fraud. Though you certainly do wonder why here in the 21st century, it is even needed.

Wiley Coyote said...


...if Bolyn had 10 ant hills in his yard, he would spray his entire yard with pesticide instead of focusing just on the ant hills.

...The best available data shows that about 12 percent of foods served in the NSLP is wasted, which costs taxpayers more than $600 million annually, according to researchers with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Steve Cohen , a Portland policy analyst, concludes that school children waste about $2 billion through the National School Lunch Program.

At some schools as high as 39 percent of food gets trashed, while the more efficient schools waste about 10 percent of foods, according to a 2003 USDA study.

The same report found students who received free lunches tended to waste 4.6 percent more food than children who paid full price.

$2 BILLION wasted and $1.5 BILLION in overpayments by the USDA...

But in Bolyn and Joe White's view - "just feed the kids"...

BolynMcClung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BolynMcClung said...

To: WC

Subject: Food wasted

Your stats for wasted food in schools is consistent with the general population.

I hate to cut and paste, but...

(1st source)
"...As a symbol of American abundance, Thanksgiving hints at just how much food there is to squander. And squander we do, from farm to fork. More than 40 percent of all food produced in America is not eaten, according to research by former University of Arizona anthropologist Timothy Jones. That amounts to more than 29 million tons of food waste each year, or enough to fill the Rose Bowl every three days. Nationwide, food scraps make up 17 percent of what we send to landfills...."

(2nd source)

"..A study by the National Institutes of Health, which measured food waste by calories, put the portion of food that goes uneaten at about 40 percent as of 2005."

WC, your stats indicate that the USDA is aware of American eating habits and have provided a program that matches them. You may wish that schools only prepare 50 plates of food for 50 students but that isn't reality.

Just like you see fraud, you see waste. Neither is a relevant discussion when the object is to feed a population. It just happens to take place in schools.

Once again, concentrate on the delivery of education, not the delivery of calories.

Bolyn McClung

BolynMcClung said...

WC, about those ant hills. The proper way to deal with ants is to spray the whole yard. Else they move over a couple of feet.

The thing about ant hills is they are beneficial to keeping the soil broken-up.

The little buggers are a pain that doesn't ever go away. That gets us back to the parallel of FRL. Fighting ants and fighting whatever it is you see that is wrong with FRL is a losing battle.

Bolyn McClung

therestofthestory said...

Bolyn, therein lies the rub. No one spending the money cares about the waste. Ask my family how I monitor and deal with waste.

Wiley Coyote said...

Sorry Bolyn...

I refuse to be one of you, stick my head in the dirt and say "that's just the way it is"...

There is too much waste, too many people taking valuable dollars and resources away from the kids who need the extra help and benefits, which causes the system to overcompensate for the abnormal number of "ED" students.

I'm all for taking the tens of millions in FRL fraud savings and reducing class sizes further in K-5 to 10 to 1.

I'm all for adding a teacher's aid in every classroom in K-5.

But crying about not having money just to keep the current status quo system afloat is pathetic.

"We need more money!" No you don't. You just need to better manage what you have.

You want to feed anyone who wants a lunch for free. Then why do we have some paying for testing and others don't? Why do we have some paying for their kid to play sports and others don't? Why don't we just let them all play for free and get testing for free?

Ahhh..the difference is control. You can control all that by what? Going back to the original FRL fraud, forget about the 76,000 on the program and screw the other 64,000 kids.

I agree this issue is akin to pushing a 5,000 pound boulder up a hill, but I'm going to keep pushing that boulder and refuse to give up the fight to make it to the top.

I do not see it as "a losing battle". At some point, the system will comecrashing down on itself. It is not sustainable.

I am concentrating on the education of children, by exposing the wasted dollars that could be better spent doing what you and I both want - educating kids, because the system of the past 40 ain't cutting it.

Anonymous said...

School 'free' lunch programs, since they do NOT verify the BS that gets turned in by parents, are not a measure of the poverty level. The mayor's kids could get free lunch, that is, if they were in government schools. All it takes is a parent willing to cheat the system. Sort of like the 'free' federal cell phones.

Anonymous said...

Poverty is a choice.

As is "financial success".

Deny this fact in the land of rags to riches.

Warren Buffoon was selling magazines and chewing gum when he was but a child.

The problem is Americas has chosen to focus on how to get more out of the Buffets rather than on honing self reliance. This is the demise of America as we know it. Liberalism is it's own worse enemy, and that

is awesome.