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Manhattan Institute

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Narrowing the Charter-Enrollment Gap: Denver's Common-Enrollment System

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Narrowing the Charter-Enrollment Gap: Denver's Common-Enrollment System

December 10, 2015
EducationPre K-12

Abstract

The proportion of students in charters with classifications that suggest that they are difficult to educate—such as students with disabilities, those who are not proficient in English, and those who are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—is often substantially below their respective proportions in traditional (“district”) public schools. Policymakers have considered various interventions to increase access to charters for disadvantaged students, including imposing strict quotas.

Key Findings

  • Some cities have recently adopted “common-enrollment” systems for their charter and district schools that centralize and simplify the enrollment process—by requiring parents to list their school preferences on a single application form—and better match students with their preferred school with an advanced algorithm.
  • Denver’s adoption of common enrollment substantially increased the proportion of students enrolling in Denver’s charter kindergartens who are minority, eligible for free/reduced-priced lunch, or speak English as a second language.
  • While policymakers should take a more expansive measure of the merits of common enrollment before adopting it, an effective way to boost disadvantaged students’ enrollment in charters is to make applying to them easier.

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