The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has finally uttered the words many suburban parents longed to hear:
“Every student will be assigned to a designated home school within proximity to where he/she lives.”
That language appeared Tuesday in a draft of guiding principles for the board’s new student assignment plan. Suburban parents and politicians can finally exhale – if cautiously – after months of fretting that the board might revive the old “forced busing” concept to break up concentrated poverty in inner-city schools.
That option, while never officially on the table, is surely off it now for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. The board still plans to attack poverty clusters; the home-school guarantee means it will use other means to do so.
Given our increasingly fragile political landscape, school board members made the right call. Any plan forcing children out of their home campuses would have sent middle-income families streaming toward private and charter schools.
But even within the board’s modest framework, CMS can still boost diversity and lessen, if not eliminate, concentrated poverty on struggling campuses.
For instance, a number of high-poverty schools house student populations much poorer than the neighborhoods surrounding their campuses. Schools in increasingly popular inner-city neighborhoods such as Wesley Heights, Merry Oaks and Plaza Midwood fall into that category.
Campus diversity levels would climb simply by bringing more families from the neighborhoods into those schools. That means expanding partial magnet programs. But it will take much more than just the word “magnet” added to a school’s title to attract such families.
It means ponying up the money for full-time magnet coordinators, highly-qualified teachers and other assets needed to create programs strong enough to compete with private and charter schools.
That isn’t the only avenue the board could take. Some students are already effectively being “bused” past the closest neighborhood school, sometimes based on attendance lines that are years or decades old. A fresh review might well pinpoint ways to enhance diversity within the confines of the home-school seat guarantee.
Much work remains to be done, and many questions remain unanswered. One troubling one: What happens to struggling high-poverty neighborhood schools if their most upwardly-mobile families leave for new magnet options? Would those schools be forced to close their doors?
An assignment plan centered on home schools and expanded magnets won’t eliminate poverty clusters. But it could help – if done right.
Board vice chair Elyse Dashew told the editorial board Wednesday that the community will be better off for having taken on this challenge.
We hope so. But for her prediction to come true, the board must push for the most resegregation-resistant plan achievable under its guidelines.