9 Investigates: Title 1 changes at Orange County Public Schools

By: Karla Ray

Updated:

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - The poverty count within Orange County Public Schools has dropped this year by 14 percent. 9 Investigates learned that means a change in the amount of Title 1 funding the district is receiving. 

Title 1 is a federal program that is used to help bridge the gap for kids in poverty. 

Investigative reporter Karla Ray learned the change has to do with the way the district counts low-income students. 

Orange County Public Schools is reporting just under 69,000 kids in poverty this year, which is around 4 percent of all students. During the 2016/2017 school year, there were nearly 80,000 kids in poverty, which is about 62 percent of the district. 

The change is a result of the district using “direct-certified” numbers from the state to count the number of kids in poverty, instead of free and reduced lunch applications. 

>>> Read other 9 Investigates stories <<<

District leaders said the certified numbers help them serve more students with the help of a separate program, called CEP, which stands for Community Eligibility Provision.  

CEP allows the district to qualify entire schools for 100 percent free breakfast, lunch and dinner, instead of relying on individual applications. 

As kids head back to class at Waterbridge Elementary School, they’re doing so without Title 1 funding. Last year’s numbers show Waterbridge’s poverty level was ranked at nearly 79 percent, but under the changes made by the district to show how those students are counted, the school fell below the 55 percent cutoff for Title 1 funding.

“I said there's no way over that short amount of time that my population has shifted,” school board candidate and Waterbridge parent Jessica Torrence said. 

The school district made the switch to using “direct-certified” data from the state, which counts the number of kids receiving benefits like SNAP and Medicaid. The change resulted in a drop of about $2 million in overall funding, but Kim Gilbert, who is the district’s director of Federal Programs, said state numbers are more reliable. 

“I think it's cleaner and probably more accurate than we saw with free and reduced lunch applications,” Gilbert said.

The switch and addition of CEP results in 52,000 more students eating for free each day in the district. Even though all schools that qualified for Title 1 saw a drop in poverty percentages, the amount of funding they’ll receive stays about the same because of a requirement in House Bill 7069, which caps the amount of Title 1 money that can be used by administrators. 

And just as some schools fell off the list under the new counting method, some schools were also added.  Lake Silver Elementary, which does not have a lot of free and reduced lunch students, qualified this year because of a large number of kids who qualify for Medicaid. 

“We did have some schools that are no longer qualified, but we had some that qualified that didn’t in the past,” Gilbert said.

Next Up: