Following reports that some New Mexico charter schools were asking for too much personal information on their lottery applications, the Public Education Commission on Friday unanimously moved to update lottery guidelines for schools under its jurisdiction.
Now, no charter school overseen by the state may circulate enrollment forms prior to a child being admitted or require applicants to share their home address.
“This is going to help [provide] clarity for everyone moving forward,” commission Vice Chairwoman Glenna Voigt said.
All state charter schools will be provided with a copy of the new guidance, and compliance with the guidelines will be a part of the performance framework the Public Education Commission uses to evaluate schools.
Per state policy, district and state charter schools are to ask families for minimal information before admitting children via random lottery to avoid the appearance of giving special preference to kids from certain backgrounds.
If the number of students applying is under the school’s capacity, all students will be admitted. If there are more student applications than spots, schools will conduct a random lottery to decide who gets a seat in the classroom.
Only after children have been accepted are schools supposed to ask for personal information, but a partial audit conducted by Pegasus Legal Services for Children during the summer found some schools were requesting information about children’s special-education needs before accepting them.
It also showed the Albuquerque Institute of Math and Science at the University of New Mexico had attached its lottery application to lengthy enrollment forms meant to be filled out once a child had been accepted through the random lottery process.
At an August Public Education Commission meeting, charter schools director Corina Chavez said she developed a database tracking lottery applications in response to the report.
Also at that meeting, Chairwoman Patricia Gipson noted that lottery applications had been a concern for the commission for quite some time.
“I’m frustrated beyond belief — have been for years,” she said. “We have brought it up a number of times. It took this unfortunately for it to get traction. Because when we brought the complaints, it got no traction.”
The state also updated its Frequently Asked Questions online, providing more specific guidance for all schools designing lottery applications.
The updated site states charter schools are required to provide open enrollment to students and a free and appropriate education. It adds that lottery applications should not request ethnic, racial, gender, religious or language information from applicants.
State guidance does not specify whether charter schools can ask prospective students if they require special-education accommodations, but the site does state applicants can’t be required to submit that information.
“Because charter schools must be nondiscriminatory, the FAQ seeks to interpret ways in which charter schools have to be careful so there is no real or perceived issues of discrimination,” Chavez said.
In New Mexico and nationwide, statutes surrounding how charter schools should conduct a lottery after receiving applications still remain murky. It’s up to individual schools, according to state guidance.
“I think there’s an identified need to look at the lottery processes,” Gipson said.