When a charter school hoping to attract low-income students failed to get the green light by the Juneau Board of Education earlier this year, a legal discussion began – can more poor students legally be anyone’s goal?
Ultimately, after a consultation with City and Borough of Juneau Attorney Amy Mead, the answer was no. Because of random versus weighted lottery requirements, what Summit STEM Charter School developers wanted to do would not work. This analysis, however, presented unsettling information to the board — perhaps the weighted lottery at current district-optional programs might also not be legal.
The Juneau School District’s ability to meet the parameters under state and federal regulations was in part the work session topic during Tuesday’s board meeting. Board member Barbara Thurston said Mead has been asked to further review current lottery measures — a weighted process that gives preference in enrollment when more families apply than spots available — to check if the board is legally required to make alterations.
“But before we can start tweaking these rules … we need to confirm our goals,” Thurston said.
According to the JSD approved “Placement Procedure for Optional Programs:” The composition of the student body participating in district-wide educational option programs should reflect the percentages of students enrolled in the District…”
Thurston presented a demographic breakdown for the three optional programs – the Montessori Borealis School; Juneau Community Charter School; and the Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy Program — in comparison to the districtwide demographics for similar grade levels.
In all “diversity categories” — English language learners, free or reduced lunch students and special education students — the Montessori and charter schools had lower than average numbers, which goes against the initial district goal.
At TCLL, the special education and free or reduced lunch populations are greater than the district averages.
The questions before the board: Should all three of these program work toward one diversity goal, or should it be based on the program’s individual goals, and what are they legally allowed to do?
Lead teacher for the Juneau Community Charter School Cynthia McFeeters said she also isn’t sure what the goals legally can be, but diversity is certainly what she hopes for.
“That’s what we want,” McFeeters said. “We totally want that as a school and we want to strive for that.”
McFeeters acknowledged an existing barrier is misinformation. Some families may not be aware the Montessori and charter schools are public schools, therefore free to attend if accepted, and that bus transportation is guaranteed regardless of distance from the building.
The school board is now trying to answer a question of its own: Is diversity what it should continue to strive for? Furthering assessment of these goals and steps to achieve them is on the docket for each board member as they continue to move forward with this discussion. Input from the public is another component members said they await.
Board Vice President Andi Story presented a first reading of the Juneau Legislative Delegation and the Alaska Legislature priorities for legislative action to “ensure quality education.”
Among those goals includes a call for reliable and efficient service by the Alaska Marine Highway System, preserving Alaska Native language and culture by supporting immersion charter school funding and increasing the Base Student Allocation. A $50 increase to the current BSA could mean a $12 million investment to school districts statewide.
A full copy of the board’s legislative priorities can be found at: www.edlinesites.net/files/_LECls_/a975d1c27465d3403745a49013852ec4/7_3gs_Leg_Priorities-First.pdf.