Wake Ed

Wake County could change rules for filling magnet schools

Five Raleigh magnet schools could see changes designed to attract more lower-performing and more low-income students to help deal with the rising number of high-poverty schools in Wake County.

Wake County school administrators will propose Tuesday setting aside seats at Brooks, Joyner, Underwood and Wiley elementary schools and Martin Middle School for magnet-school applicants who don’t come from high-performing areas. The five magnet schools were at or below the county average last year for students receiving federally subsidized lunches.

The presence of magnet programs at those five Raleigh schools have drawn charges from some critics that Wake is subsidizing extras to keep affluent families in the district.

Historically, Wake has used one set of selection criteria for all of its magnet schools where priority is given to applicants from high-performing areas and those wanting to leave overcrowded schools. Most of Wake’s 42 magnet schools are in lower-income areas so the goals are to reduce high concentrations of poverty and promote diverse populations.

For the 2016-17 school year, school administrators want to use customized selection criteria for accepting magnet students into different groups of magnet schools. The group that would see the biggest change from the current selection criteria are the Group 2A schools of Brooks, Joyner, Underwood, Wiley and Martin.

Under the proposed selection criteria, 30 percent of magnet vacancies would be set aside at the five schools for applicants from medium-performing or low-performing areas. Seats would still be set aside for applicants from high-performing areas, but there would be fewer allocated for them.

Administrators are proposing the changes for the Group 2A schools because they’re in areas where they compete with charter and private schools “but could benefit from some different magnet selection priorities to help them meet the magnet objectives.”

The process for filling Group 1, Group 2, Group 3 and Group 5 magnet schools would largely remain as they are now.

The Group 2 schools would not include a new selection priority for lower-performing areas even though they have the same characteristics as the Group 2A schools. Administrators say that the Group 2 schools – which include Broughton High, Daniels Middle and Combs Elementary – can still meet the magnet objectives under the existing selection criteria.

With Wake now busing fewer students for diversity, the number of high-poverty schools has increased by more than 150 percent in the last seven years.