School Choice & Charters

Charter School Enrollment Policies Fuel Discussion at National Authorizer Meeting

By Arianna Prothero — October 22, 2015 2 min read
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Charter schools often get pinged by their critics for not accepting their fair share of students with special needs.

What role authorizers—the groups that approve new charter schools to open—play in making sure schools have fair and open enrollment practices was the topic of lively discussion at a national conference for authorizers here this week— both in the session and on Twitter.

Panelists discussed the importance of having a single enrollment system for all schools in cities with a large proportion of charters, to what extent lotteries actually guarantee equal access, and at what threshold authorizers should start looking into a school’s enrollment policies:

Panelists also dug into a relatively new debate in the charter sector on whether schools should be required to backfill. Backfilling, or replacing students who leave in the middle of their elementary, middle or high school careers, has traditionally been more of a term used by education researchers. But critics say that by not refilling vacated seats, a school effectively blocks more transient students—including those from homeless or immigrant families— from enrolling, while falsely inflating a school’s academic bottom line.
One argument that’s been floated for not backfilling is that new students coming into a school in a non-entry grade might knock a school’s meticulously crafted culture off kilter.

But Cliff Chuang of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education challenged that idea, saying that if one or a few kids can seriously disrupt a school’s culture, it may not be that strong to begin with. He also posited a reason why schools in some areas are more likely to backfill than others:

The more per-pupil funding a charter school receives from the state, the lower its need to backfill.
Finally, the legality of not backfilling was called into question by the panel’s moderator, National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ director of knowledge Parker Baxter, who said that not backfilling might also violate several state charter laws.

The panel was put together for the National Association of Charter School Authorizers’ annual leadership conference, which took place this week just outside Denver. Over 500 people attended the conference this year, which also marks the 15th year since NACSA’s founding.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.