NC charter school leader: Public schools ‘milking’ federal school lunch program

NC charter school leader: Public schools ‘milking’ federal school lunch program
Unlike charter schools, Partnership and other traditional public schools are required to participate in the federal school lunch program. (Credit: Ethan Hyman | The News and Observer)

RALEIGH, N.C. (T. Keung Hui | The News and Observer) - A charter school advocate who helps North Carolina pick which new charter schools should be approved is charging that traditional public schools are serving subsidized meals to students who don't need them – such as children of doctors and lawyers.

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow, such as those requiring participation in the federal school lunch program. Joe Maimone, a member of the N.C. Charter Schools Advisory Board, argued Monday that the school lunch program results in the number of economically disadvantaged students being under-reported in charter schools and over-reported in traditional public schools.

"There is no doubt that school systems across this entire country are milking the federal government for free and reduced lunch, serving 100 percent of populations of doctors' kids and lawyers' kids that shouldn't be getting it," said Maimone, who is also headmaster of Thomas Jefferson Classical Academy, a charter school in Rutherford County.

"So I'm frustrated every time I hear a charter school criticized for having low EDS (economically disadvantaged students) because they choose to pick a healthier alternative for their lunch programs for kids."

The latest state charter school report found that 30.6 percent of charter students were considered economically disadvantaged in the 2016-17 school year compared to 50.4 percent in traditional public schools.

That's comparable to the gap shown in data from the federal Title I program which showed 33 percent of students enrolled in charters in 2016-2017 were low-income, compared to 53 percent in traditional public schools.

Monday's school lunch discussion was part of the advisory's board review of Revolution Academy, a charter school that wants to open in 2019 in Guilford County. The advisory board voted to not recommend that the State Board of Education approve Revolution Academy.

Alex Quigley, chairman of the advisory board, cited concerns such as how Revolution's leaders said they want to attract students who are on waiting lists for other Guilford County charter schools which have relatively low percentages of economically disadvantaged students.

"My question is what is the need for this school?" Quigley said. "I just feel like I'm struggling to support what is likely going to be an upper middle class income school."