Five years ago, in response to a groundswell of parental complaints, Wake County schools finally ended its long-running policy of forced busing. Wake had long been one of a few remaining holdouts still clinging to this failed experiment that disrupted so many lives.
But Rep. Susi Hamilton (D-New Hanover), would like to bring forced busing back – and make it statewide.
House Bill 776, Ensure Economic Diversity/Students in Schools, would compel every school district in North Carolina to enforce an assignment formula detailing the percentage of students eligible for free and reduced lunch assigned to each specific school.
From the bill:
“Local boards of education shall establish school attendance areas and assign students to schools in a manner that ensures that the percentage of students at a school who qualify to receive free or reduced-price meals does not exceed by more than 15 percentage points the district-wide percentage of such students at the grade levels represented in the school.”
For example, if the number of high school students who qualify for free and reduced lunches in a school district is 40 percent of the total, then no high school within the district can have more than 55 percent of its students be children eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.
The words “shall establish” indicates this rule would not be optional. If local schools don’t comply, the state will take over. The bill states that the state board of education will take over school assignment duties the following year for any school districts found not in compliance with this mandate.
This bill will, in short, create a logistical nightmare for local school districts, create massive additional bureaucracy and transportation costs, erode local control of schools, and, most importantly, will randomly force some students to be bused far away to different schools.
For a general idea of the logistical nightmare this could create, we can look at figures from Hamilton’s home district. Data from New Hanover schools shows that 44 percent of students in the district are enrolled in free or reduced lunch programs. More than a dozen schools, however, have a percentage of free or reduced lunch enrollees that would exceed the threshold prescribed in Hamilton’s bill. In these cases, some students would have to be randomly selected to be forcibly bused to new schools, dragging these children away from familiar friends, teachers and staff and disrupting their and their family’s lives.
Moreover, in order to achieve the mandated mix of free and reduced lunch students with students not eligible for the program, some non-eligible children will likewise be forced out of their familiar schools. School assignments would turn into a massive shell game, shifting students around like pawns on a chess board.
And recall that Hamilton’s bill calls for these quotas to be enforced by counting students who would be eligible for the lunch program, not just using those students actually enrolled. For instance, a recent report suggests the number of children qualified for the program in New Hanover could be as much as 50 percent higher than the number of those enrolled. The number of disrupted lives and schools would grow.
Try to imagine the amount of time, research, work and fuel that would need to be devoted to make this happen statewide, as called for in Hamilton’s bill. How many more bureaucrats would be needed? How much paperwork? How many buses and bus drivers? How much more fuel and repair work?
Finally, how will the students to be forcibly bused to a strange school be selected? A lottery? Alphabetical order? Rock, paper, scissors?
I wonder if Rep. Hamilton has considered how bureaucrats will break the news to the unlucky children who will be forced to move schools, while their classmates get to stay. There is simply no way to make this selection process fair.
Because it would create logistical nightmares across the state, generate significant additional costs and bureaucracy, and forcibly and unfairly disrupt the lives of children and their families, House Bill 776 is this week’s Bad Bill of the Week.