Gwinnett graduation rates renew leaders’ discussion over equitable funding

The district’s rate is lower than last year and lower than the state average
In the Gwinnett County school district, differences in the graduation rate between student demographic groups and also between different high schools led to discussion about equity in school funding. (AJC file photo)

In the Gwinnett County school district, differences in the graduation rate between student demographic groups and also between different high schools led to discussion about equity in school funding. (AJC file photo)

A Gwinnett County school board discussion Thursday of graduation rates led to renewed calls for changing allocation of school resources and disagreement over district spending.

Gwinnett, Georgia’s largest school district, had a 2023 four-year graduation rate of just under 82%, down from 83.2% in 2022 and lower than the state rate of 84.4%. The district’s graduation rate has been below the state’s since 2018.

Much of the conversation at the meeting focused on schools and student groups that were below the overall graduation rate. All student ethnic demographic groups exceeded the overall district graduation rate except for Hispanic students.

Hispanic students make up about one-third of all students and are the largest demographic in the district. Their graduation rate was 70%. Among multilingual students — most of whom speak Spanish — the rate was 57%.

Board member Adrienne Simmons noted that Berkmar High School, the traditional high school with the lowest graduation rate at about 71%, is heavily Hispanic. She asked for further breakdown of demographics in schools falling below district targets to see if changes should be made to allocations to support underperforming schools.

“If we don’t look hard at equitable resource allocation, we’re going to see the same results,” Simmons said.

She also suggested the district evaluate the effectiveness of programs like summer school and credit recovery that are meant to help students get on track for graduation. Board Vice Chair Steve Knudsen asked to take a look at any specific classes or curriculum areas that consistently are a hurdle to graduation to see if anything could change to help those students.

Board Chair Tarece Johnson-Morgan said the district needs to audit its equity practices, repeating concerns that schools are receiving equal but not equitable funding. She voted against the district’s budget multiple times because she felt it did not address longstanding needs in the county. She said the data showing gaps in academic performance and graduation is evidence of inequity and that some schools need additional resources.

District staff pledged to involve board members more directly in the development of its next budget.

Board member Mary Kay Murphy pushed back on the notion that the district is inequitable, saying the district and its staff work for the best results for all students.

Johnson-Morgan also said the district should not let money prevent equity work, arguing that the district can rethink its practices to better spend funds.

That led to a heated back and forth between Johnson-Morgan and board member Karen Watkins, who asked if the district should look at how money is being spent within schools or how much money was going to each school. She also said that the district has spending constraints and that she believed staff members were doing their best within those constraints, making it impossible to have everything that the district wants. Johnson-Morgan responded that the district brought in more revenue than expected and could afford to do an equity audit.

Gwinnett has set a goal for the class of 2027 to have a 90% four-year graduation rate.

Nine of Gwinnett’s 23 traditional high schools were above that mark in 2023. Twelve schools increased graduation rates from 2022 to 2023.

“We are certainly pleased that the graduation rate at more than half of our schools has increased year over year, and more than a third have surpassed 90%,” Al Taylor, Gwinnett’s chief of schools, said in a news release when the district announced its graduation rates. “The educators at those schools should be celebrated, but at the same time, the district-wide graduation numbers show there is plenty of room for improvement, which is why we remain committed to providing the support our students need to be college and career-ready.”

School2023 graduation rate2022 graduation rate
Central Gwinnett79.5%78.8%
Collins Hill81.1%82.2%
McClure Health Science94.4%94.3%
Mill Creek94.7%92%
Mountain View87.4%89%
North Gwinnett97.0%95.4%
Paul Duke STEM93.3%88.4%
Peachtree Ridge90.4%92.1%
South Gwinnett76.6%80.4%

About the Author