Saturday, July 11, 2015

DESE on low income change to "economically disadvantaged"

I thought others might find DESE's presentation on the switch in classifying students from low income to economically disadvantaged (the free and reduced lunch change) interesting. I've gotten my hands on an electronic copy and posted it here (and the below are screen captures of a few of their slides)*. This was before the Board of Ed last month, then presented to others, including districts, earlier this week.

Two details that are good to know:
  • districts that have 40% of students qualifying through the state certification process (that is Health and Human Services plans) are qualified to switch offering free breakfast and lunch to all students. The count under which they were certified counts for four years, unless they go up, in which case their count goes up (it can't go down).
  • USDA reimburses those districts at 160% of the state certification count
So depending on their rates of fully paid lunch, some districts are still going to financially come out in better shape than they did before, even with feeding (possibly) all kids. (That sounds you hear is number crunching going on in finance offices of cities across the state.)

Here's the state's breakdown on the options for counting kids in Community Eligibility communities (the state is using option 4):

(I'll admit to being darkly amused by number 6; essentially, this means that if 40% of your student population was on some combination of MassHealth, SNAP, and such, ALL your kids would count as low income. And those who calculate Chapter 70 would collectively have a heart attack...)

So what exactly, beyond the break in the count of who is low income (and hang on to that, because we're going to come back to it), is going to be affected by this change?
Okay, so Chapter 70 has a low income increment. That's what gets REALLY WEIRD really fast on this, given the drop in the calculation. There's no change for this year, as that is written into the law on Chapter 70, but DESE is going to be seeking a change in MGL Chapter 70 for FY17. 
Federal grants are calculated by census data at by STATE, but then are distributed by low income calculation (and there's not a clean overlap on those). DESE is going to use the new Economically Disadvantaged (inevitable that we'll abbreviate this "ED," right?) for FY16 (this year), BUT there is a hold harmless provision in the federal grants. That means no district will actually lose money; it is very possible some districts will not get increases they were expecting.
UPDATE: Correction from DESE: Title I does have a “hold harmless” provision, but it’s not a 100% hold harmless the way Chapter 70 is. Districts can see reductions due to changes in population, Census poverty data, or enrollment; the hold harmless provisions set a floor on the reductions. 
The accountability system...let's come back to that, shall we? It's going to be a mess this year, anyway, because we're also using two testing systems.

"Shrug" on local use.
Public reporting is something we all need to be on top of. We're all going to have to get very, very used to pointing out that no, we don't suddenly have fewer poor kids.
MSBA...they don't know yet.
And research...well, there's the kicker, right? We just tossed out several decades worth of measurements, haven't we?

So, since the state has now taken away most (but not all) of the reasons why many districts were staying OUT of Community Eligibility, don't be surprised to see more districts moving to it. The state sort of just shoved the whole state into this calculation, anyway; we may as well take advantage of the part that feeds kids. More kids being fed is GREAT!

Let's keep focused on the other half of this, too, though, as there are still parts of this that need fixing and better working out. For one, I'm not convinced that the way the state is choosing to count kids is really going to catch every kid. For another, the Chapter 70 answer isn't enough yet. Worcester (for example) is going to drop from 75% to somewhere around 50%. While "hold harmless" will kick in on this one, too, and the state is airily talking of increases to the increment, I haven't seen much activity on this one, yet. That's worrying.
And, man, the accountability system is just it's own whole mess, isn't it? Two testing systems, a 30% drop in the number of kids in poverty (but only by percentage)...can we start over?

*without the seriously annoying little star person. And thanks, as always, to sources!

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