Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Charter school leaders push for legislation to a serve more diverse student population

In conversation with public charter school leaders across the state, one thing that unites us all is our commitment to serving all students. And last week, the House Education Committee, introduced HB512 which would provide a path to strengthen a charter school’s ability to serve a more diverse student population by providing them the option to use a weighted lottery system. The bill will greatly improve how charter school lotteries function — making them more equitable and increasing the diversity of the students charter schools are able to enroll. Charter school leaders are overwhelmingly in support of this bill.

Charter schools have always been committed to serving all students, but challenges quickly emerged in our ability to deliver on this promise. In some cases, a focus on securing funding to pay for our own school buildings or preparing our teachers for the year ahead resulted in fewer students from diverse backgrounds enrolling in our schools. One of the most pressing challenges, however, has been the absence of a policy mechanism to strengthen our enrollment systems.

Despite these early growing pains, charter schools are serving more students with limited English education, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families than ever before.

At Anser Charter School, we committed to expanding our school to ensure we can enroll more disadvantaged students. This year we’re adding free transportation, full day kindergarten, and our newly hired Community Engagement Coordinator is focusing student recruitment efforts within our neighboring underserved communities.

About half of our students at Future Public School receive free or reduced lunch, 20 percent identify a home language other than English, and 15% receive special education services. We’ve been able to build a diverse school setting through robust community engagement and an integral partnership with the Boys and Girls Club next door. As interest in our school grows, a weighted lottery will ensure our ability to continue to serve all students.

Heather Dennis and Amanda Cox

Several other charter school leaders from around the state have also taken important steps to serve more diverse student populations by providing transportation, meal programs, and after-school support. MOSAICS Public School, which will open next year, has proactively been meeting with families at head-start programs and attending as many community events as they can to reach families from all backgrounds. Heritage Community Charter School offers a dual-language option and serves a student population that is over 50 percent Latinx.

At Elevate Academy in Caldwell, the student body is 100 percent at-risk by Idaho’s definition of the term. That means meeting at least three of 13 state-set criteria, including low GPA, high absenteeism, serious medical or personal issues, involvement in the judicial system, or being a parent or pregnant. The school is 90 percent free and reduced-price lunch, with 79 percent of students identifying themselves as Hispanic or Latino. About 1 in 5 students have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that they brought to Elevate from their previous schools.

These efforts are paying off, but as a charter school community, our schools still do not fully represent the population we aim to serve. That is why we support HB512, which would implement an optional weighted lottery to charter school enrollment. Weighted lotteries allow charter schools to adjust their admissions policies to give disadvantaged students better odds. So, for students from low-income families, students with disabilities, or those with limited English language skills, a school could weight its lottery to give disadvantaged students better chances for admission.

Research has shown that integrated schools benefit all kids. Students attending integrated schools demonstrate “enhanced creativity and motivation, deeper learning, and sharper critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” And according to the Century Foundation, “roughly two-thirds of states appear to allow charter schools to use some form of weighted lottery considering diversity factors.”

By passing HB512, the Idaho Legislature would go a long way to ensuring charter schools can serve all students. As public charter school leaders aiming to serve schools that are representative of our communities, we encourage our elected leaders to support HB512.

Amanda Cox and Heather Dennis

Amanda Cox and Heather Dennis

Cox is the co-founder of Future Public School and Dennis is the co-Director of Anser Charter School.

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