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Thursday, September 30, 2010

North Carolina's Wake County Schools Loses $10.3 M Over Anti-Diversity Policy

Feds Deny North Carolina's Wake County Schools Magnet Program Grant

North Carolina's Wake County Schools' request for $10.3 million in Federal money to expand its magnet school program has been rejected by the U.S. Department of Education, adding fuel to the debate about ending the school district's diversity policy.

North Carolina's largest school district will not be among those sharing the $100 million in grants expected to be announced today by U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, according to Wake school board member John Tedesco. Education officials have been informing members of Congress who represent winning school districts, and Tedesco said his congressional contacts told him no systems in the state won magnet grants this year.

No reason was given for why Wake fell short. But the news comes at a critical time, with Wake facing the loss of $100 million next year from the end of federal stimulus dollars and state budget cuts in education funding.

"Anytime you don't get money that's not good news," said Tedesco, a member of the school board's ruling coalition. "Would I have liked to get the money? Of course."

The $10.3 million, which would have been distributed over the next three years, would have been used to expand new magnet programs at Smith Elementary School in Garner and Brentwood Elementary School and Millbrook High School in North Raleigh. All three received magnet programs as part of an effort to reduce poverty rates and raise test scores.

The federal magnet money would have expanded teacher training at Smith and Millbrook for their International Baccalaureate programs and allowed Brentwood to expand its magnet engineering program schoolwide, according to Wake's magnet application.

Chris Lassiter, principal of Smith, said the grant would have also allowed the school to offer Mandarin Chinese. But he said they haven't been relying on getting the money.

"The grant would have been a nice supplement to the program," Lassiter said. "But we'll be successful without it."

The fate of Wake's magnet grant has been heavily debated for months.

Opponents of the school board majority have repeatedly warned that ending the district's policy of diversifying schools by socioeconomic status would jeopardize winning the magnet grant.

The school board majority disagreed and in May gave final approval to eliminating diversity from its student assignment policy. A school board committee headed by Tedesco is working on a draft student assignment plan thatwould divide the county into 16 neighborhood zones and stress proximity, stability and family choice.

"Their decisions have caused a nationally recognized school system to be called into question," said Yevonne Brannon, chairwoman of the Great Schools in Wake Coalition, a community group that opposed the elimination of the diversity policy. "I don't think the federal government was going to hand over millions of dollars when our judgment is in question."

Brannon noted that Wake has won $36 million in magnet grant money since 1985.

But Tedesco said it can't be proven that there's a connection between eliminating the diversity policy and not winning the grant. He pointed out that Wake didn't win a $7.5 million grant in 2004 when it had the diversity policy.

"I don't know how an intelligent person would make the leap and say that's why we didn't get the grant," Tedesco said.

Tedesco said that if Wake's change in assignment policy were a problem then the U.S. Education Department would have rejected the district's request this year for a one-year extension to finish using $1.3 million in unspent magnet grant money.

Tedesco pointed to additional competition nationally this year for federal magnet money. He also speculated that federal officials didn't give any magnet money to school districts in the state because North Carolina recently won the $400 million federal Race to the Top education grant, aimed at paying for school reform efforts in the state. It's uncertain how much of this federal grant Wake will get.

In addition to Wake, the Cumberland, Guilford and Winston-Salem/Forsyth school systems also applied for the magnet grant this year.

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Sources: NAACP, McClatchy Newspapers, Wikipedia, WRAL, Youtube, Google Maps

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