Education

Wake schools can spend magnet money that renewed diversity debate

Posted August 4, 2010 10:13 a.m. EDT
Updated August 4, 2010 11:30 a.m. EDT

School Funding (Generic)

— The Wake County schools have no easy road ahead in paying for educating 140,000 students, but it does at least have permission to spend $1.3 million with the approval of a federal magnet school grant extension that figured in the strident debate about student assignment policy.

Magnet Schools Director David Ansbacher said Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education has approved using the money in the 2010-11 year, even though it is part of an $8.5 million, three-year grant that expired this year.

Wake County magnet schools – elementary, middle and high – had 29,609 students at the end of the 2009-10 year last month, or about 21 percent of the students in the district.

When the school board voted earlier this year to seek the extension, it was in the process of the controversial change away from socio-economic diversity as a criterion in assigning students to schools.

The grant application included a board-approved statement saying it remains committed to voluntary desegregation in schools and a copy of the official policy in effect at the time, which included diversity.

Opponents of the policy change charged that it was disingenuous to include the policy while in the process of dropping diversity, and they challenged the supporters by asking if they would later send a copy of the new, community-based assignment policy.

Proponents of the policy shift have cited magnet schools as the system's primary tool in encouraging diverse student bodies by attracting applicants from around the county.

At another time, a routine matter such as the grant application would have been placed on the "consent agenda" at a board meeting, routine operating items that are passed unanimously as a package without discussion.

The school system also has applied for a new, three-year federal magnet grant for about $10 million. Ansbacher said word on that application should come later this month or in September. If it is approved, the grant would be for three years beginning in October, the start of the federal fiscal year.

The amount of magnet grants often varies from what is asked, he said, and he declined to predict how much federal officials might offer this time around.

"We were a bit late getting started on this grant," he said of the time extension, so not all the funds were committed by the end of the 2009-10 school year. Officials had expected permission to carry over the money, however, he said.