© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Education

Four More NC Charter Schools Add Diversity Measures To 2021 Admission Lotteries

LCS 2020 graduation.jpg
Ann Doss Helms
/
WFAE
Lincoln Charter School is among four schools up for state approval to launch admission lotteries weighted for diversity.

Four charter schools are up for state approval this week to use weighted admission lotteries for 2021, setting aside spots to improve diversity. They include American Renaissance School in Statesville and Lincoln Charter School, with two campuses in Lincoln County.

Both schools will create a lottery advantage for low-income students.

State approval of the four new schools will mean 36 of North Carolina’s 200 charter schools will give diversity-based preferences in this winter’s admission process. The state is offering $37 million in ACCESS grants to encourage this process.

Lincoln Charter, with 2,200 K-12 students, is one of the state’s largest charter schools. It sends buses into neighborhoods in Lincoln, Mecklenburg and Gaston counties.

Chief Administrator Jonathan Bryant says his two schools are majority white, with about 19% of students coming from low-income homes.

"I think that diversity is part of a quality education experience. And so this is a way for us to intentionally diversify in a way," Bryant said Monday.

Lotteries Key To Grants

Charter schools are publicly funded schools that report to independent boards, rather than local school districts. When applicants outnumber available seats, charter schools must use admission lotteries.

The federally-funded ACCESS program offers grants to charter schools willing to make changes to increase the number of educationally disadvantaged students they serve. Often that means giving preference to families who self-identify as low-income, but for charter schools that already have high poverty levels it can mean admitting more students with limited English proficiency or disabilities.

Weighted lotteries are required to win ACCESS grants. State Charter Director Dave Machado says six more schools are still working their way through the approval process.

Lincoln Charter already provides busing and meals, both of which are optional for charter schools. Their absence can deter low-income families from applying. Bryant says his two schools have been awarded $700,000 to buy more buses, add a school nurse and provide staff training to serve a more diverse student body.

American Renaissance, a K-8 school, plans to provide a weighted preference for low-income students, aiming to have 15% of students come from economically disadvantaged homes. It is also adding transportation next year.

Change Isn't Dramatic

A handful of charter schools, including Charlotte Lab School and Community School of Davidson, pioneered weighted lotteries four years ago.

Leaders of those schools say the prospect of a diversity-driven selection process can spark anxiety among current and prospective families. But demographic change has not been sudden or dramatic.

In general, low-income students get only a small number of set-aside spots or heavier weight in the lottery. Lincoln Charter, for instance, wants to increase low-income enrollment by 2.5% a year.

And many existing students move up and keep their seats. So changes to any school's lottery tend to affect mostly the grade level with new students entering, such as kindergarten in a K-12.

But state officials say it’s important to expand access to high-quality charter education, even if it happens slowly.

And Bryant says the marketing that accompanies a lottery change helps families understand the charter option.

Charter schools have been around since the 1990s, and in the past decade they've become the fastest-growing segment of public education. By law, those schools can't charge tuition. But Bryant says every year some families show up for admission events assuming they'll have to pay to get in.

Want to read all of WFAE’s best news each day? Sign up here for The Frequency, WFAE’s daily email newsletter, to have our top stories delivered straight to your inbox.