Affluent Kids Come at a Cost: Thurgood Marshall Elementary in the CD finds that an influx of highly gifted students will cost it federal funds

When the Seattle School District last fall moved some 200 students in its “highly gifted” program at Capitol Hill’s Lowell Elementary into Thurgood Marshall Elementary, which was populated largely by poor and minority children, everybody knew officials risked creating another divided school, rife with resentment between haves and have-nots.

Now there’s a new twist to deepen the resentment: The Central District school is losing more than $200,000 in annual federal funding because of the demographic change brought by students in the “Accelerated Progress Program.”

The district distributes federal Title I funding, earmarked for poor kids, to schools in which more than 55 percent of students receive free or reduced-price lunches. The money is given each year based on the school’s demographics the preceding year. Thurgood Marshall easily qualified in 2009–10, as poor kids represented 83 percent of its student body the year before.

With the arrival of the APP kids, however, only 42 percent of students qualify for free or discounted lunches this year—and the district in recent weeks has told parents and staff that they would receive no Title I funding at all next year. (The school also went from 6 percent to 37 percent white.)

“For the children in the regular education program, they’re going to slip through the cracks again,” says Rose Wallace-Croone, who has two children in that program and sits on the board of the school’s PTSA. She notes that the federal money has been used for tutoring and after-school programs, related to both academics and the arts.

APP parents have been upset too. “You feel like these kids are being hurt because we’re here,” says parent and PTSA board member Meg Diaz. Parents like Diaz did bring money with them. The PTSA at Lowell split its budget when half its students left. Those going to Thurgood Marshall brought nearly $100,000 with them—still less than half, though, of what the school received in federal funding.

The loss adds to already heightened tensions between the two communities at the school. “The APP parents are the primary focus [of the school’s attention],” Wallace-Croone complains, adding that the two programs constitute “segregation in the truest form.”

Diaz says that parents from both communities have been trying hard to work together, but acknowledges that “it’s been a rough year.”

The district did not respond to a request for comment. Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson recently increased the percentage of poor kids a school must have to receive Title I funds. If not for that change, Thurgood Marshall would have still qualified.