Sam Duell is the Policy Director for Charter Schools at ExcelinEd.
This year students and families created home schools, moved to private schools and sought alternative public schools in record numbers. Bellwether Education Partners estimated 3 million students were missing from public schools. Many school districts have gone the extra mile to find students, but more flexibility to partner with community organizations would help them meet students wherever they find them.
In October, NPR reported that district enrollments are down by 8,000 students in Orange County, Florida, by 16,000 in Miami-Dade, by 11,000 in Los Angeles Unified, and by 5,000 in Charlotte, North Carolina. In November, the Utah State Board of Education reported that the number of students attending private school had increased 25% and the number of homeschool students tripled from the previous year. And just this week, Chalkbeat Colorado reported that enrollment numbers in Colorado are down by 29,900 students compared to last year. We are seeing similar reports of declining enrollment in Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Maryland.
There is good news, though. Public schools can go to students and families. We’ve seen “Herculean efforts” in Indianapolis, where the district reassigned staff to set up pods and learning hubs in a matter of days (see great reporting and research by CRPE). Not to mention similar efforts in San Francisco, Cleveland and Denver.
However, there are often structural barriers to this kind of innovation. Forward-thinking states like Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Oklahoma, New Jersey, and Texas have provided narrow flexibilities for districts to directly employ charter networks to staff schools. The Progressive Policy Institute just released a comprehensive report and model policy on the matter. This follows CRPE’s years long work on district-charter partnerships.
Policymakers can create the conditions for even more school district flexibility by championing broad contracting authority which would allow districts to create new opportunities – for more supplemental or full-time online courses, for more pods, for closer relationships with after-school providers, and for parent-directed expenditures.
To support the development of pragmatic policy, ExcelinEd has published a model policy on district contracting. It’s short—132 words to be exact. But it could really pack a punch on behalf of school districts by empowering them to contract with education service providers for nearly any reason.
If a state were to adopt this policy, districts might be able and more likely to do the following and more:
We’ve said it before, public education will continue to evolve. Policymakers can support districts to accelerate the rate of change by providing them with broad flexibilities. Students and families aren’t waiting. Policymakers should encourage districts to meet families where they are. They can do that by advocating for policies like this one.