California’s Districts of Choice are competing for students, writes June Kronholz in Education Next. State law lets choice districts accept transfers without approval from students’ home districts.
The Riverside Unified School District east of Los Angeles was losing enrollment till it expanded choice options and opened the door to transfers.
. . . the district launched a science and technology middle school, a dual-language immersion elementary, an all-digital high school, an arts-centered grade school, a virtual school starting at grade 3, and more. Kids from other districts could enroll in the new programs, or, if the programs were oversubscribed, could enter admissions lotteries and, in some cases, stood the same chance of winning as Riverside youngsters.
In 2013–14, the third choice year, 535 students transferred in to Riverside schools. Enrollment — and state funding — rose.
Thirty-one districts in the state have declared themselves “districts of choice.”
Districts can’t recruit star athletes or other outstanding students, writes Kronholz. ” Transfers can’t exacerbate racial segregation, and a district can’t take so many students that the transfers undermine another district’s financial stability.” They can’t reject special education students or English Learners.
The law is controversial, writes Kronholz. Riverside parents aren’t always happy to see transfers compete for seats in popular programs.
Superintendents are wary of upsetting colleagues in neighboring districts, says Adonai Mack of the school administrators association. Many superintendents “aren’t entrepreneurial,” he adds.