Which children do charter schools serve? Students are identified based on their demographics including free and reduced lunch (FRL) status. Yet, half the student population in Florida qualifies. FRL status may just mask what is really happening.
Children who qualify for FRL are not all alike. Nearly half of the FRL children, about 950,000 live in deep poverty. The difference is between families of four earning about $47, 000 vs. about $24,000 i.e. those who qualify for reduced cost lunch and those who qualify for free lunch. How many truly poor children attend charters?
Remember the post about Duval County charters? Between 2013 and 2014, the percentage of students classified as economically disadvantaged dropped in most cases about 30%. The reason was a change in the definition of economically disadvantaged by their charters. Skewed enrollment in charters has become a civil rights issue.
In a report from the August 14th New York Times, 14% of all children persistently qualify for free lunch (not reduced cost lunch) over time. A University of Michigan study shows the achievement gap of the persistently poor is a third larger than generally reported by NAEP and other measures. Grouping children in FRL together masks the real achievement gap between lower and higher income groups.
In Florida, 24% of all children fall below the federal poverty level. This includes about 950,000 children below the age of 18. Another 25% qualify for reduced lunch. These are not just statistics. They are real children with lives complicated by the trappings of poverty. If charters are ‘skimming’ students from the public schools, their percentage of students who qualify for free lunch not just for reduced cost lunch, will be much lower.
Charters are supposed to find innovative ways to solve academic problems. They may just be masking them. It is time to take the mask off and see which children are being served.