A long standing policy regarding public charter school admission has been reversed. These schools, who receive federal grants, will be allowed to give preference to low-income children, minorities, and other disadvantaged students.
The schools will now be able to conduct a “weighted lottery” or award preference to certain groups. The goal behind the reversal is to protect racial diversity in schools that are appealing to high-income families.
“We’ve heard from states, school operators and other stakeholders across the country that weighted lotteries can be an effective tool that can complement public charter schools’ efforts to serve more educationally disadvantaged students,” said Dorie Nolt, a department spokeswoman.
In larger cities across the country popular charter schools attract wealthier families making the the balance between rich and poor, white and minority difficult to maintain, said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the right-leaning Fordham Institute and author of “The Diverse Schools Dilemma.” He says the way the current system is set up allows middle class parents wanting diverse schools to flood the lottery. This no longer makes the school diverse; it instead ends up mostly white and middle class.
Nina Ree, president of The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, had been requesting the change for years. She says,
“At the core, this brings the federal statute in line with what a lot of states have put into place to help attract more English-language learners, special-education students and low-income students to charter schools,”
Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post reported that, the charter schools are privately run by mostly non-union teachers, and publicly financed. Most of the nations charter schools are low-income and high poverty, and the goal of many charters is to serve these students.
Richard Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Century Foundation edited a study in school integration and found that students learn more when their school is economically and racially diverse.
“When charters become strong, desirable and oversubscribed, middle-class families with better access to information tend to be the ones who flood the lottery, and the composition of the school changes,”
The original charter school vision was conceived by Albert Shanker, late president of the American Federation of Teachers. Kahlenberg said Shanker proposed that charter schools be “diverse laboratories of innovation that could transcend urban racial boundaries because they would draw from across the city”.
According to Kahlenberg, federal policy has stood in the way and allowing this weighted lottery could bring charter schools back on track. He suggests to achieve a real variety in charter schools the government should allow the lotteries to favor the underrepresented subgroup in the school.
Last fiscal year The Education Department gave $242 million to fund startup charter schools, the money is used to fund the new school for two years. Around 1,200 schools used federal funds in fiscal 2013.