DC Policy Center

What if equity was a part of accessing great schools?

Margie Yeager is a Partner with our Advocacy grant making team.

A new report from the DC Policy Center demonstrates what it would mean to preference equity for at-risk students in the MySchoolDC lottery. (Education Forward DC is a funder of the DC Policy Center and funded this report.)

At-Risk Priority in DC’s Common Lottery: Potential Implications for Access and Diversity — timely in its release as the DC Council prepares to consider legislation for a voluntary at-risk preference for public charter schools — has big findings: an at-risk preference would result in a ten-fold increase in the match rate of at-risk students at highly-desired public charter schools with long waitlists.

The report looks at Balance Public Charter School, a hypothetical public charter school that is modeled after many top-tier, sought-after public charter schools in DC and lays out several scenarios.

The report’s modeling found that with the status quo — with no priority for at-risk students — just 11 percent of Balance Public Charter School’s pre-K3 class is likely to be at-risk students. (Nearly 50 percent of students who attend public schools in DC are at-risk of academic failure.)

But, implementing a preference for at-risk students would substantially increase access to these schools. The model projects that an at-risk lottery preference after the sibling preference results in 61 percent of the pre-K3 class serving students who are at-risk. Implementing the at-risk preference before the sibling preference results in 100 percent of the class being at-risk.

This model suggests big shifts toward equity at DC’s schools, but it also means that the students who need the most support have a better chance of getting a seat in a high-quality school. 

Right now, an at-risk student has just a 4 percent chance of matching in the model, but that chance jumps to 42 percent when the at-risk preference is considered after the sibling preference, and 71 percent when the at-risk preference is considered before the sibling preference.

Over time, an at-risk preference gives students who are in foster care, experience homelessness, receive food support via SNAP and TANF, or — for high school students — who are overage and undercredited, the support needed to thrive. Our schools will also begin to better reflect the diversity of our city.

Here at Education Forward DC, we recognize that current approaches are not enough to ensure we have a great public school for every student and that we have a public school system designed for DC families. That work starts with expanding opportunities for at-risk students, who need more support than ever before.

Public charter school leaders want the ability to serve more at-risk students, and we believe — paired with increased funding for at-risk students — this preference is an important step in the mission to ensure equity in DC schools.