Charter schools look to weighted lotteries to attract low-income students



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ohOften criticized for their lack of racial and socio-economic diversity, charter schools in Nevada are beginning to embrace weighted lotteries as a way to increase the number of underfunded students.

Coral Academy, which operates seven schools in southern Nevada, announced this week that it is accepting applications for the 2022-2023 school year, and that low-income students will have a better chance of landing one of their coveted seats, thanks to the implementation of a new weighted lottery system.

Ercan Aydogdu, Executive Director and CEO of Coral Academy, simply describes how it will work: It’s like a fishbowl filled with raffle tickets. A student who is considered economically disadvantaged will have four tickets. A student who is not will have a ticket. Students receive the weight if they qualify for the federal Free and Reduced Meal (FRL) program, which applies to families with incomes at or below 185% of the poverty line. For a family of four, that works out to $ 49,000 a year.

Coral is not fighting for the candidates overall. Its schools must regularly organize a lottery because the candidates outnumber the places available. Aydogdu says Coral has a combined waiting list of more than 5,000 students who are still hoping to enroll in this current school year.

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The four-fold enrollment multiplier is likely to have the biggest impact on Coral’s newest campus, Cadence, which is slated to open next year in the main Henderson planned community of the same name. Coral Cadence will educate 1,800 students from Kindergarten to Grade 8. The other Coral campuses will have fewer places available (since the majority of students return in subsequent years), but may also see an increase in the number of FRL eligible students.

Coral Academies are the first charter schools in southern Nevada to implement a weighted lottery system. But several others, including the Pinecrest Academies in southern Nevada, are supposed to ask the state’s charter school board on Friday for permission to switch to a weighted lottery system.

Two charter schools in northern Nevada already use a weighted lottery.

Although privately operated, charter schools are considered public schools because they receive state and federal funding. They cannot use selection criteria such as academic performance or entrance essays, and they cannot charge tuition or fees. They are supposed to be open to all students. However, in practice, and for various reasons, enrollment in charter schools is significantly whiter and richer than traditional public schools.

For example, 77.7% of the state’s students are considered economically disadvantaged, compared to just 43.4% of students in state-sponsored charter schools, according to state enrollment data in 2021.

The existing schools of the Coral Academy have around 30% of FRL students. Aydogdu says schools have made strides in recent years to make that number more representative of the community as a whole, but he acknowledges their campuses still lag behind the Clark County School District. A presentation from the Charter School Authority on enrollment shows that three Coral campuses have the largest percentage increase in FRL enrollment between 2020 and 2021. Their Nellis Air Force Base campus grew from 16.5% FRL to 29 , 6%.

Coral’s other efforts have included hiring a Family and Community Outreach Coordinator to specifically market people in targeted low-income neighborhoods.

Previous efforts have failed

The Pinecrest Academy of Northern Nevada has opened for the 2020-2021 school year. It was approved by the Charter School Authority the calendar year before with high hopes to reflect the community as a whole. One of the tools he hoped would bring diversity: the weighted lottery.

Now in its second year of academia, PANN reported a student population that was only eligible for the FRL of 14.6%; 45.4% of all students in Washoe County are eligible for FRL.

Principal Jami Austin believes the pandemic is one of the main reasons the school has failed to meet its goal of reflecting the demographics of Washoe County. The school’s enrollment period fell around the same time as the onset of the pandemic, meaning many low-income earners had more immediate issues to resolve than school choice.

But probably the biggest hurdle was that the Charter School Authority required its schools to operate at 50% capacity at the start of the 2020-21 school year, meaning PANN had to operate in a virtual or hybrid format. The Washoe County School District, the charter’s main competitor for student enrollment, offered all in-person instruction.

“We quickly lost a lot of (potential) children,” says Austin. “Look at families of lower socioeconomic status and what their priorities are. It was, ‘I just need my kid to go to school, so they’ll have to go to the neighborhood school.’ “

Austin adds that the school is “reconnecting” with these families in the hope that they might reapply.

Another factor may have been the way PANN originally structured its weighted lottery. For the inaugural year, this was a multiplier doubled for students eligible for the FRL. Austin says the potential benefit of having two enrollment chances instead of just one may not have been a strong enough incentive to require parents to submit the necessary documents to prove they are eligible for the. FRL.

For their second year, they increased the weight at a five-fold multiplier.

“We want to make sure that everyone who has that need and that desire has the opportunity to attend,” Austin said. “We spend all of this time teaching and educating families and getting them to apply. For them not to enter is devastating.

Aydogdu of Coral Academy is not deterred by the early results from PANN.

“Reno is totally different,” he says. “We’re hoping southern Nevada (the weighted lottery) will see a much bigger impact, especially for the first year (at Cadence).”

Amanda Safford, Academica Nevada’s director of operations, agrees the regions are different. There are fewer charter schools in northern Nevada, which means parents and other caregivers are less familiar with who they are and who is eligible to attend. Academica Nevada is the private education management organization that establishes and operates numerous charter schools in the state, including Pinecrest, Doral, and Mater academies.

Safford says the impact of the weighted lottery is still promising, and the types of families interested in PANN are becoming more diverse. She is also encouraged to see other charter schools follow suit.

“There is a real desire on the part of the school boards I serve to want to help diversify and provide access for all students,” she said.

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of grant-supported news bureaus and a coalition of donors as a 501c (3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Hugh Jackson with any questions: info@nevadacurrent.com. Follow the Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

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