A bill pending in the Oregon Senate, would permit charter schools to use a weighted lottery so that they can give enrollment priority to traditionally underserved students. If the bill is enacted, Oregon would join a dozen or so other states that permit weighted lotteries in some form. Weighted lotteries are an important tool to drive equity in the charter space, and Oregon provides some interesting lessons learned.
The Original Pilot Program
In 2015, Oregon enacted SB820 which allowed charter schools to use a weighted lottery to provide enrollment preferences. Under the bill, charter schools could provide an enrollment preference to students that met at least two “historically underserved student” categories, including “race, ethnicity, English language proficiency, socioeconomic status, gender,
sexual orientation, disability and geographic location.” This alone made the Oregon bill unique: no other state limits weighted lotteries to students meeting multiple preference categories.
Additionally, SB820 was scheduled to sunset after five years, and the state Department of Education was required to submit a report to the legislature on the implementation of weighted lotteries after four years. The bill lapsed in 2020 when legislation to extend the provisions failed.
Lessons from the Pilot
Oregon’s five-year pilot of a weighted lottery policy provided something of an experiment.
In the 2019 report required by SB820, the Department of Education (ORDOE) found that there was strong interest from charter schools to adopt weighted lottery preferences. The report notes that “many charter schools in Oregon are receiving pressure from their [authorizers] or other community groups to recruit and enroll students who mirror the demographics of the communities they serve.” Some charter schools also indicated that using a weighted lottery would directly help them achieve their mission.
Despite the popularity of the idea, few charter schools adopted weighted lotteries during this period. Why? The ORDOE report identified two main issues driving this limited uptake.
First, the sunset provision of the law created uncertainty: schools were hesitant to adopt a weighted lottery policy only for it to deemed unlawful if the law expired.
Second, the “two-plus category” requirement of the law presented implementation challenges. In particular, charter schools reported concern over the legality of extending access to only some members of a protected class (since a student would need to meet two categories, some in either category would be excluded). Schools also had concerns over verifying student eligibility.
How This Bill Differs
This year’s bill takes those lessons to heart and ensures that charter schools interested in adopting a weighted lottery can do so. First, the bill has no sunset provision, allowing charter schools to think long term. Second, the bill permits enrollment preference to be granted to students meeting at least one historically underserved category, rather than requiring two or more factors.
The bill does fall short in one area, though this could be rectified either through amendment or by implementation: guidance from ORDOE on implementing a weighted lottery would be helpful. Schools said as much in the 2019 report. If the bill is enacted as drafted, ORDOE should proactively develop guidance, looking at the work of The Century Foundation.
The five-year pilot and the 2019 report show that there is a clear demand from the charter school sector to use weighted lotteries to better fulfill their mission. Charter schools and their authorizers want their schools to reflect the communities they serve: a weighted lottery can help achieve this goal. And it is NACSA’s opinion that charter schools can and should develop from and with the communities they serve. Weighted lotteries are important tools in accomplishing this task.
Jason Zwara analyzes and develops charter authorizing policies as part of NACSA’s policy team. He is responsible for tracking state and federal charter school legislation and developing policy resources for members and advocacy partners. Have policy questions? Please reach out! Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org