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Education
An in-depth look at our region's emerging economic, social, political and cultural identity.

Facing 'Insane' Costs, CMS Will End Graduation Projects

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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is preparing to drop its required graduation project after state lawmakers mandated that they pay up to $75 reimbursement for low-income students.

The change was part of a bill that passed this summer to reduce standardized testing.

CMS requires graduates to do a junior research paper and a senior service project, compile a portfolio and do an oral presentation to a panel of community members. State Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican who co-chairs the House education committee, said lawmakers thought it was unfair to expect students from low-income homes to pay for supplies, transportation and other expenses needed to complete such projects.

A $75 reimbursement might not seem like much in a district with a $1.6 billion budget, but consider that CMS has about 10,000 seniors each year.

"The notion of having to pay funds to thousands of students, the costs would be insane, and we would need a whole new staff to do nothing but look for receipts for adding up $75,"  board member Carol Sawyer said at a Thursday CMS policy committee meeting.

The state provided no money for reimbursements, so CMS would have had to use county money. The policy committee voted to drop the project from the district's graduation requirements effective immediately, subject to the full board's approval in December.

Years ago North Carolina required graduation projects. Elmore says CMS was among only a handful of districts that kept the requirement after the state's mandate ended.

At Thursday's meeting, board members and Kondra Rattley, the associate superintendent in charge of high schools, said they still believe it's good for students to do in-depth research and present their reports to community members. They said they'll try to continue some form of the project but make it part of a graded class, rather than a requirement for a diploma.

Board member Sean Strain, who has twins in 10th grade, said CMS will need to get the word out that the project isn't really dead.

"There's a lot of sophomores, not just the two in my house, they're licking their chops, going 'I don't have to do anything now.' I can promise you," Strain said, laughing.