How school choice plan has evolved

khui@newsobserver.comOctober 19, 2011 

The Wake County school board adopted a new student assignment model Tuesday. Debate over the issue has been contentious, and spending by candidates and political groups has made this year's Wake school board race one of the most expensive in the system's history. Here's how we got here.

Q: How has Wake historically assigned students?

Every address in Wake has a specific elementary school, middle school and high school assigned to it. You can go there or apply to attend a different school, like a magnet school. One part of Wake's policy called for balancing schools by family income levels to try to avoid having too many low-income students at individual schools.

Q: What has changed about student assignment?

The school board majority voted last year to eliminate socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment.

Q: How would the new plan work?

Each family could choose from among multiple schools. Administrators will try to give families one of their topchoices.

Q: How does the plan promote proximity?

Most of the choices are schools closest to where students live. If there are more applicants than seats, priority would be given to people who want to go to their closest school.

Q: How does this plan guarantee stability?

Once students get into an elementary school, they'll be guaranteed seats at specific middle schools and high schools for their entire K-12 career. Reassigning students to reduce crowding would end because overfilling schools would be avoided in the first place.

Q: How does the plan promote student achievement?

Families will have at least one high-performing school to which they can apply. Families in Southeast Raleigh who live near magnet schools will get multiple options outside their area.

Q: What happens to the magnet school program?

All current magnet schools would keep their programs. Magnet schools in higher-poverty areas would have the majority of their students consist of those who apply in the magnet lottery.

Q: What has been the reaction to the plan?

Some parents say it could result in their neighborhoods no longer being assigned to the middle schools and high schools they've traditionally attended. Some critics of the plan say it doesn't do enough to ensure that schools don't wind up with concentrations of high poverty and low-performing students.

Q: How much will it cost?

The plan is projected to cost $700,520 in one-time and recurring costs. The bulk of the cost would go toward leasing 15 buses a year from the state at $33,000 per bus. Other costs would include developing the software and performing community outreach. Costs are projected to drop over time.

Q: Why does it matter who wins the Nov. 8 runoff election?

New board members who take office Dec. 6 could push for changes.

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