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CMS' latest cut smacks poor students



The school board is at it again. Last week after laying off teachers, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools quietly announced that it was eliminating its volunteer Equity Committee, which used to be a required group. What does the volunteer Equity Committee do? It provides oversight in the CMS system; it's a checks-and-balances arm designed to ensure that schools serving poor children of all races aren't discriminated against in regard to resource allocation because of economic disparity.

I won't even address the ridiculous fact that a group that monitors equity in our school system is a "volunteer" organization, but I will express my disgust at eliminating said group in the wake of all of the changes, including layoffs and budget cuts, that CMS is making. How interesting is it that they decide to disband a group that is tasked with monitoring their decisions and its impact on schools in the Charlotte community?

According to a report published on June 24 in The Charlotte Observer, the CMS board passed an equity policy in 2001 in response to "a shift from court-ordered desegregation to neighborhood schools." The equity policy required CMS to establish "baseline" standards that would apply to all schools including faculty, technology, resources and building standards. The equity committee was established to protect working-class and minority neighborhoods from getting shafted in the distribution of resources and to ensure that the equity policy was enforced. School Superintendent Peter Gorman stated, "The old policy sets standards that no longer have much meaning." So the board is considering new ways of studying the predictive link between student demographics (race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and the like) and student achievement and how to break it.

One way of breaking it is having a group in place to flag the board when resources are not being equitably distributed. I'm all for innovation and trying something new, but why wouldn't the Equity Committee be included in examining this issue when they probably have the most knowledge about it? It seems to me that the "volunteer" group should be kept in place while this new approach is studied.

Many local organizations are up in arms over the disbanding of this group, including the NAACP and the Black Political Caucus. But for those of you thinking that this only applies to schools in predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods, think again. The equity policy also included poor and working-class white neighborhoods, so the removal of the Equity Committee means that many students would be vulnerable to decisions made by CMS with no oversight. I don't think children, who did not ask to be here, should suffer or have fewer resources because they come from impoverished backgrounds.

CMS is not talking about the benefits of having an equity policy and an Equity Committee in place. According to the article "Restructuring schools for equity: what we have learned in two decades" -- published by the education policy publication Phi Delta Kappan in 1993 -- there are many benefits to having an equity policy. "Restructuring schools for equity challenges schools to establish greater congruence between themselves and students' homes. Children have a better chance of succeeding in school when such congruence exists." Making equity a priority helps students from low-income populations succeed because in addition to resource allocation, it promotes parental and community involvement. In essence, children feel better about themselves when they know that adults care as much about them and their success as they do about other wealthier populations.

I understand that even with having groups in place to monitor issues like equity, there is no guarantee that schools and children will be protected. But having an Equity Committee does communicate to the public that CMS actually values equity. Further, an Equity Committee is an actual reminder to the CMS board and executives who are making the decisions that someone is actually watching. This should discourage poor decisions at worst and encourage robust research and good decision-making at best. This leads me back to trying to figure out why CMS would remove the Committee since, because it's a volunteer body, the cost to operate it is undoubtedly low.

Actually, there is a cost to them -- the cost of being accountable to someone or something. And this cost is being removed under the guise of trying to find a better way of ensuring equity. The real cost of not having an equity committee is that children may suffer because there isn't someone else with their best interests at heart.

I'm not suggesting that CMS doesn't care about its students, but I am suggesting that by eliminating this group, they appear to only care about the interests of a wealthier demographic. Why shut out the world or members -- some of whom aren't a part of CMS leadership -- when making decisions that will impact their world for decades to come? It just doesn't make any sense. In no way, shape or form is that fair or equitable.

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