On April 4, 2019, TCF senior fellow Halley Potter and policy associate Kimberly Quick submitted testimony for the D.C. Council Budget Oversight hearing on the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. Potter and Quick joined advocates and leaders of diverse charter schools in calling for the D.C. Council to amend the District’s charter school law to allow some schools to employ weighted lotteries to promote integration. Kimberly Quick’s testimony may be viewed here (at roughly the 2:32 mark). Halley Potter’s written testimony is provided below.
Dear Chairman Grosso, members of the Committee on Education, and the Committee of the Whole,
My name is Halley Potter. I am a senior fellow at The Century Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy think tank with offices in Washington, D.C. and New York City. I am also the coauthor, with my colleague Richard D. Kahlenberg, of A Smarter Charter: Finding What Works for Charter Schools and Public Education (Teachers College Press, 2014), and a former D.C. charter school teacher. I am submitting written testimony to explain the benefits of allowing weighted lotteries in charter school admissions for the purpose of promoting integration and to encourage the council to amend D.C.’s charter school law to explicitly allow such lotteries.
The Case for Encouraging Racial and Socioeconomic Diversity in D.C. Schools
Five decades of research suggest that racial and socioeconomic integration is one of the best design principles for creating successful schools that produce strong results for students and society. Students in diverse schools have higher average test scores and graduation rates than peers of similar backgrounds attending schools with concentrated poverty. The experience of learning in integrated classrooms alongside peers with different experiences, perspectives, and abilities helps to reduce racial bias and increase creativity, motivation, deeper learning, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall famously wrote, “Unless our children begin to learn together, there is little hope that our people will ever begin to live together.” Research backs this idea. According to one study, students who attend racially diverse high schools are more likely to live in diverse neighborhoods five years after graduation.
Unfortunately, while the benefits of diverse schools are well documented, segregated schools nevertheless remain a reality across much of the country, including in D.C. The overall proportion of students in D.C. who are considered at-risk (those who are eligible for aid from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are homeless or in the foster system, or are a year or more behind in school) is declining, and currently about half of all public school students in district and charter schools are considered at-risk. These demographics in theory create the conditions under which more district and charter schools in the city can have economically integrated enrollment, with a mix of at-risk students and non-at-risk peers. However, few individual schools reflect this overall economic diversity. According to an analysis by the D.C. Policy Center, a majority of D.C. schools have become less economically diverse—moving farther away from an even mix of at-risk and not-at-risk students—or have seen no change in their economic diversity in recent years.
The Benefits of Using Weighted Lotteries to Promote Integration in Charter Schools
The city’s unified school lottery system, My School DC, has helped to address some of the equity challenges associated with school choice, including standardizing application processes and creating a central portal for families to apply to schools. However, as a recent article in the Washington Post notes, the unified lottery has not been enough to make meaningful progress in decreasing racial and socioeconomic segregation in D.C. schools.
Allowing consideration of diversity factors in the lottery, including in admission for charter schools, could help improve the lottery’s performance with regard to promoting integration. Weighted lotteries and “set-aside” policies that give priority to, or reserve seats for, particular groups of students based on diversity-related factors can be powerful tools for achieving diverse enrollment in charter schools, magnet schools, and other schools that use lottery-based admissions. Weighted lotteries are especially helpful when the diversity of the applicant pool has become imbalanced in a way that is hard to correct through recruitment alone. For example, if many middle-class families find out about a given school through their social networks, that school may still end up with a lottery pool tilted heavily toward more advantaged families, even if it devotes significant energy to recruiting low-income families.
The use of weighted lotteries could be a particularly effective strategy for maintaining diversity and advancing educational equity in the city’s dual language immersion programs. The popularity of these programs among English-dominant families risks displacing English-learning students. This risks becoming a multifaceted tragedy. First, as these programs become more English-dominant, they become less linguistically integrated. Second, they also become less effective for English learners. Research increasingly shows that integrated, “two-way” dual language immersion programs are uniquely beneficial for advancing ELs’ academic development and helping them learn English. Finally, these programs work best for helping English-dominant children become bilingual when they are enrolled with native speakers of the program’s other language—usually Spanish. As English-dominant families displace native Spanish-speaking (or Mandarin-speaking, or French-speaking, as the case may be) students from these programs, they undermine the programs’ effectiveness for helping all students become bilingual. D.C. is fortunate to enroll a linguistically diverse student body; as such, any expansion of dual language immersion programs should prioritize this linguistic integration before opening any “one-way” language immersion programs primarily targeted at English-dominant families.
Charter schools in D.C. do not currently have the option of using weighted lotteries to promote integration. D.C.’s public charter school law has been interpreted to prohibit any preferences other than those specifically enumerated, which address siblings, children of the public charter school’s founding board, children of full-time employees, and, for select schools, students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or disability. The enumerated preferences do not include socioeconomic status, students’ home languages or English proficiencies, or other educational risk factors.
Precedent for Using Weighted Lotteries in Other States
According to a new analysis of state charter school policies by The Century Foundation, two-thirds of all states with charter school laws (29 out of 43 states plus the District of Columbia) allow charter schools to implement weighted lotteries that could be used to encourage integration—either by explicitly allowing such preferences or by remaining silent on the issue. The District of Columbia is part of the minority, along with fourteen states, in prohibiting the use of such lotteries.
State charter school laws and policies that affirmatively allow weighted lotteries may be constructed in a variety of ways. Table 1 provides some examples. One state with a weighted lottery policy that is clearly written to support integration is New Jersey, which specifies that charter schools “may seek approval from the Commissioner to establish a weighted lottery that favors educationally disadvantaged students… in an effort to better represent a cross-section of the community’s school-age population.”
Selected State Charter School Policies Regarding Weighted Lotteries
||Weighted Lottery Policy
||State law specifically allows the following enrollment preferences:
+ A charter school located in the attendance area of a district elementary school in which at least 50 percent of the enrollment qualifies for free and reduced price lunch may give preference to pupils currently enrolled in that school and to pupils who reside in the elementary school attendance area where the charter school is located. [See CA Edu. Code § 47605.3.]
+ Preference in a charter school’s lottery may be given to children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals if approved by the chartering authority.
+ While admission to a charter school may not be determined according to a student’s place of residence, authorizers may approve admissions preferences, such as those designed to achieve geographic balance and/or reflect the population of the district, if otherwise consistent with civil rights law. [See CA Educ. Code § 47605(d)(2)(B).]
+ Weighted lotteries permitted for federal Charter Schools Program purposes.
+ Allows preferences for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, students with disabilities, migrant students, neglected or delinquent students, and at risk students with disciplinary issues. [See CA Educ. Code § 47605(d)(2)(B).]
+ If consistent with civil rights laws, preferences are allowed for language proficiency (for dual immersion), parents’ education level, geography, and gender. [See CA Educ. Code § 47605(d)(2)(B); 20 U.S.C. 7221i(2)(H)(ii).
||Charter schools may use weighted lotteries, including providing an additional weight to economically disadvantaged students (based on qualification for free or reduced-price lunch), students with disabilities, migrant students, English-learners, neglected or delinquent students, or homeless students.
[See “Weighted Lottery Policy Concerning Colorado Charter Schools Program (CCSP) Grant Applicants,” Colorado Department of Education, https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdechart/ccsp-weighted-lottery-policy-factsheet (accessed January 29, 2019).]
||The law specifies that charter schools may use a weighted lottery to provide increased chance of admission for educationally disadvantaged students.
[See GA Code §§ 20-2-2066 & 20-2-2062.]
||A public charter school may give greater weight to a student’s lottery status if the student is:
+ Eligible for free or reduced-price meals;
+ A student with disabilities;
+ A student with limited English proficiency;
+ Homeless, as defined under the federal McKinney–Vento Homeless Assistance Act; and/or
+ A sibling of a student currently enrolled in the public charter school for which the sibling is applying.
Furthermore, a public charter school also may give priority to the sibling of a student admitted through the lottery process or a currently enrolled student for any spaces that become available throughout the school year.
A public charter school may propose a geographic attendance area with a median income that is equal to or less than the median income of the county for the public charter school. If so, it may provide guaranteed placement through a lottery to students who live within the geographic attendance area for up to 35 percent, as proposed by the public charter school and approved by the public chartering authority, of the available space of the public charter school.
A school may also provide guaranteed placement through a lottery to up to 35 percent, as proposed in its proposal/contract, of the available space to students who attended a public charter school during the previous school year that is operated by the same operator.
[See MD Educ. Code § 9-102.2.]
||State law allows an enrollment preference for underserved students, defined as students eligible for the federal free and reduced-price lunch program, eligible for at-risk funding, or students with special education needs.
[See MS Code § 37-28-5, § 37-28-23.]
||“A charter school may seek approval from the Commissioner to establish a weighted lottery that favors educationally disadvantaged students, including, but not limited to, students who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, migrant students, limited English proficient students, neglected or delinquent students, or homeless students, in an effort to better represent a cross-section of the community’s school-age population.”
[See NJ Rev. Stat. § 6A:11-4.5.]
||Consistent with the requirements of federal law and with the school design described in the school’s charter, a charter school may also establish a single-sex charter school and/or establish enrollment preferences for students at risk of academic failure, students with disabilities, English- learners, or other authorizer-approved at-risk student populations.
[See NY Educ. Law § 28548; § 8 NYCRR 119.5.]
||Schools may use a weighted lottery if it has been approved by the state board of education.
[See NC Gen. Stat. § 115C-218.45.]
Different Diversity Factors That May Be Considered in Weighted Lotteries
The diversity factors that are considered most frequently in weighted lotteries are related to socioeconomic status (such as eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch; eligibility for other public assistance programs, such as TANF, SNAP, and/or Medicaid; participation in Section 8 or residence in public housing; self-reported household income; or parental educational attainment), but other types of factors can promote integration as well. For example, dual language immersion schools with weighted lotteries based on students’ home languages can also promote integration by language, resulting in classrooms that include a mix of students who are native English speakers and those who use the target language at home; they also often functionally promote racial and socioeconomic diversity.
Diversity Factors for Weighted Lotteries
+ Disability status
+ Eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch
+ Eligibility for TANF, SNAP, and/or Medicaid
+ English language learner status
+ Foster care status
+ Having an incarcerated family member
+ Head Start attendance
+ Home language
+ Household income
+ Parents’ educational attainment
+ Participation in Section 8 or residence in public housing
+ Temporary housing status
+ Adult educational attainment
+ Median family income
+ Percentage of households in which a language besides English is spoken
+ Percentage of minority residents
+ Percentage of owner-occupied homes
+ Percentage of single-parent homes
+ Performance of zoned school
Table 2 lists examples of many different factors that have been used in weighted lotteries in charter and district schools studied by The Century Foundation, including both student-level characteristics (typically determined either by family self-reporting or by matching student information with district records) and neighborhood-level characteristics (typically determined by matching a student’s home address with an analysis of data for that census block). Table 3 lists examples of charter and district schools that use weighted lotteries to promote diversity.
Examples of Schools with Weighted Lotteries
|Brooklyn Prospect Charter School
Charter network in Brooklyn, NY
|Preference is given in the elementary and middle schools admissions lotteries for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; the weight of the preference is reviewed annually to see if any adjustments are needed in order to achieve a 50–50 distribution of economically disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged students.
|Chicago Magnet Schools
Chicago Public Schools, IL
|After accounting for sibling preference and geographic preference, remaining seats are divided evenly between students from four socioeconomic tiers, which are determined by matching students’ home addresses with an analysis of U.S. Census data on a wide range of factors: median family income, adult educational attainment, percentage of single-family households, percentage of home ownership, percentage of population that speaks a language other than English, and the performance of public schools in that neighborhood.
|Community Roots Charter School
Charter school in Brooklyn, NY
|Lottery reserves 40 percent of seats in the kindergarten admissions lottery to be filled by students living in public housing, students who attend Head Start, and/or students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. (Low-income students not chosen for these reserved seats enter the general lottery.)
|Dallas Transformation Schools
Dallas Independent School District, TX
|Lottery reserves 50 percent of seats for students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch and 50 percent of seats for students who are not eligible.
|High Tech High
Charter network in San Diego, CA
|Lottery is weighted by home zip code, seeking a proportionate distribution of students from across San Diego, including a statistical advantage for students eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Time for the D.C. Council to Act
Research clearly shows that integrated schools benefit all people. D.C. currently has the public school demographics to support more integrated enrollment, but current school enrollment policies do not adequately support diversity. I urge D.C. to join a majority of states in allowing charter schools to use weighted lotteries as one tool to promote school integration.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.