I was inspired by Idealistic Mama’s guest post and have a little different angle keeping in mind her main points of creating school equity, neighborhood schools, and the new assignment system.
In Round 1, families would be given a spot at their neighborhood school automatically. If parents choose, they could try to “lottery out” of their neighborhood school and enter the lottery for city-wide schools, language programs, and charter schools. In Round 1, other neighborhood schools would not be choices. This would cultivate the expectation that families could “win the lottery” and get a special program but most likely, they will attend their neighborhood school. In a situation where non-attendance area sibling enrollment prevented the enrollment of an attendance area applicant, the attendance area applicant would receive superior preference in the lottery for city-wide schools and programs.
Neighborhood schools should not be choices in Round 1 as that goes against the basic premise of neighborhood schools. City-wide and charter schools offer special language programs and/or curriculum which makes them extraordinary and therefore worthy of a special application and a lottery system. This would ensure people within the neighborhood school assignment would get their neighborhood school. If spots offered to neighborhood assignment area applicants are not taken in Round 1, then the spots would be released to non-neighborhood applicants in Round 2. In Round 2, preference would be given to non-neighborhood applicants who qualified for free lunch and added diversity to the incoming class.
An example is the 2011/2012 K class of Alvarado. In the first cycle of the new system, 38 CTIP1 applicants applied to Alvarado. There were 30 neighborhood applicants without attending sibling requests and 8 neighborhood applicants with attending sibling requests. The neighborhood requests were equal to the amount of CTIP1 applicants. There were 22 non-attendance area sibling applicants. There were 88 openings at the school. In current system, 10 neighborhood applicants did not receive a spot at their neighborhood school. In my proposal, the neighborhood applicants would be offered spots and in Round 2 any available spots would be given to interested families with preference for families qualifying for free lunch and ethnic diversity based on the registered class. Thus the final class would be 38 neighborhood applicants and 20 preference or CTIP1 applicants.
A system with true neighborhood preference has many benefits.
a. This would create transparency in the school assignment system. At this point, parents have no idea where they are going to end up. Parents must negotiate many factors such as start times, location, and after school care when choosing a school. If they know their neighborhood school, they will have this information in advance and can plan accordingly. If we honor a neighborhood system, then parents know what school they have; they know the principal, the start time, the building, and the community of parents. This familiarity with the school would take a lot of stress out of the process and make the transition into kindergarten a much more predictable and less anxiety producing experience.
b. It would allow neighborhood schools to change as neighborhoods change.
c. It would allow parents to build connections and maintain them from pre-kindergarten days through elementary school. This would support schools in the long term.
d. It is more ecologically sound. Most people would be going to school in their neighborhood thus cutting down on commuting within San Francisco. It would promote walking and biking to school.
2. Preference would be given to children who qualify for free lunch within the city-wide school lottery program. Ethnicity would be used to help city-wide schools enroll a student population that mirrors the diversity of San Francisco. Student address would have no preference. This would ensure that no one was “gaming” the system as seems likely with preference solely based on address.
3. We need to make all schools within CTIP1 areas schools quality schools. We can use the CTIP1 areas to target specific schools within the system. A possible example would be that all CTIP1 area K-8 schools would become year around schools with an emphasis on academic proficiency and social and emotional development. The goals of these schools would be to prepare students for high school in terms of academic, social, and emotional readiness. Class sizes would be small and some subjects like math and science could be single sex. Campuses would be open 7am to 7pm. Existing child development centers and preschools in CTIP1 would be funded to ensure availability and accessibility for all children under 5 years of age.
4. We need to bring more money into the school system to ensure that all neighborhood schools have basic services like art, P.E., and libraries. Basic education should not be reliant on a PTA’s ability to raise money. Quality education should not be dependent on the incomes of enrolled parents and their ability to volunteer. We need a source of funds that would help to stabilize the system during state and federal budget cuts.
An example of funding the system by families using the public schools system would be an educational surcharge that would be tax deductible similar to property taxes. In the following example, I use specific numbers but these are for demonstration purposes only. If families supported this idea, the exact numbers would need research. For instance, there could be a 1% enrollment surcharge for all families who have an annual household income over $60,000 enrolling their children in public schools. If a family had a gross income of $60,000 they would pay $600 per child per year at the time of enrollment. If a family had a gross income of $300,000 they would pay $3,000 per child per year.
This money would fund the CTIP1 area schools and basic services within neighborhood schools. It would help defer the budget cuts and is only applied to people using the system. This enrollment surcharge would be tax deductible in a manner similar to property taxes. PTAs would still raise money to fund their specific schools but this would be a way to bring more money into the overall system to fund school equity.
In addition, if we have a secured source of funds, it will create stability within the schools system and might actually make SFUSD more attractive to families over the long term. When other school districts are forced to make radical cuts, SFUSD might be able to provide some modicum of financial stability if there is a separate source of funds.
Parents whose children are in the system are usually the most passionate about funding the system. It is doubtful that you could pass a tax on all residents to pay for public education. I believe that most parents with children enrolled in public schools want to contribute to the system. If parents could make a decision to formalize a regular contribute to the system, the funds could create more parity between schools and produce more stability within the system.