The New England Law | Boston Center for Law and Social Responsibility (CLSR) held its first workshop on charter school enrollment laws and policies on November 10, 2012. The session was led by Professor Monica Teixeira de Sousa and attended by public school teachers, parents, a public school administrator, members of the judiciary, law students and academics. This workshop marked the first public event for the Public Education Legislation Project, an ongoing effort on the part of the CLSR to analyze public education laws and policies in order to determine their impact on the most vulnerable student populations.
Professor Teixeira de Sousa and Retired Connecticut Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez
The session was highly participatory and attendees shared their on-the-ground experiences with current charter school enrollment laws and policies, including their concerns about foster children and homeless students and their view that charter schools are not currently providing meaningful access for all students.
Current opt-in charter school enrollment laws requiring a child’s parent or guardian to apply to a charter school on their son or daughter’s behalf were discussed and data was shared with participants about the multiple barriers currently impeding parents from being able to take the affirmative steps necessary to enroll their children in charter schools. The current legal framework was juxtaposed with recently proposed legislation in Rhode Island and New Jersey seeking to change charter school enrollment from an opt-in to an opt-out approach. The opt-out approach to enrollment would include all students in a particular attendance zone or zones who are registered to attend public school in a randomized lottery. A parent or guardian would not have to take any steps to place their child’s name on said lottery. Parents of selected students would be notified and would have the choice at such point to send their child to a charter school or to keep their child in a traditional public school. The Connecticut State Department of Education is currently conducting a study to evaluate the feasibility of such an approach.
The bills were examined and discussed by participants and many in the room agreed that the opt-out approach held the potential to draw from a population of students that better reflected the students currently enrolled in traditional public schools. Concerns about the opt-out approach were also raised and the attendees engaged in a lively discussion about the advantages and disadvantages of the opt-out approach.
Next steps were also discussed and based on the suggestions provided by attendees, the Public Education Legislation Project will continue to conduct and disseminate research on charter school enrollment laws and policies, monitor the proposed ballot initiative in Massachusetts seeking the unlimited expansion of charter schools, examine the alleged practice on the part of charter schools of “pushing out” or counseling out students on account of academic performance, behavior or need of special education services, and keep the workshop participants and other interested community members informed about legislative and policy developments on the issue of charter school enrollment.
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