A quirk in state regulations governing poverty rates and social service funding formulas is costing Columbus City Schools in Ohio more than $7 million, district spokesperson Scott Varner confirms.
The root of the problem is the district’s adoption of the National School Lunch Program’s Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) in 2014, which automatically qualifies the entire student body for free school meals without gathering individual applications. That move artificially inflated the district’s official poverty level, which has traditionally been defined by the percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced price school meals.
That number rocketed from 61.4 percent when individual families had to submit applications to qualify for school meal subsidies to over 90 percent when CEP was instituted.
The new, larger poverty number significantly impacted the amount of state economic-disadvantage funding the district is eligible to receive. While technically that funding amount should increase significantly because of the dramatic rise in the district’s poverty number, there has actually been a negative effect caused by a combination of two separate sections of state regulations.
One is that annual increases in economic-disadvantage funding are capped so the district doesn’t get the full increase its vastly expanded poverty rate would technically entitle it to, at least not immediately, Varner explains. The second is that state regulations require that district charter schools get the entire increase immediately without regard to any caps in funding increases.
The result has been that the district has had to send an increasing percentage of its economic-disadvantage funds to its charter schools to comply with the law, leaving less for the district schools to divide among themselves. While charter schools are now getting over $1,000 per pupil, regular district schools get less than $500 per pupil, Varner says.
In all, the amount of economic-disadvantage funds allocated to charter schools has risen 125 percent since the implementation of CEP, from $5.7 million to $12.8 million.