This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The process of enrolling in a District or charter school can be complex and fraught with requirements that may discourage some parents and students. Advocacy groups like Education Voters Pennsylvania are pushing the District to simplify the process of how students are assigned to schools by implementing a common or universal enrollment system.
Currently, parents and students who are exploring multiple options must navigate a maze: There are different types of District-run schools – neighborhood, special admission, citywide admission – and there are varieties of charter schools. Many have different paperwork, application requirements, interviews, and timelines.
A common enrollment system would allow a student to apply to all District and charter schools by filling out a single application. There would be just one timetable for enrollment.
“We believe that common enrollment, if done properly, appropriately, and with the right principles in mind, can work to improve equity and access,” said Susan Gobreski, executive director of Education Voters Pennsylvania.
EdVoters PA started advocating for common enrollment in September. Gobreski said she would like to see common enrollment implemented at the high school level first, before rolling it out to elementary and middle schools.
Also supporting the idea is the Great Schools Compact, an initiative guided by Philadelphia School Partnership to help District and charter schools work together more productively to expand high-quality school options. Miles Wilson, the Compact’s director, said that if implemented, universal enrollment should also apply to charter schools and schools from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“The Great Schools Compact felt that this was something that we should look at because common enrollment was taking place in different cities like Denver, New York, and Chicago,” said Wilson, adding that they are interested in “seeing if the system could work and make sense here.”
EdVotersPA, the Education Law Center, and the Great Schools Compact held a workshop in February to educate the public on how common enrollment would affect students and schools in Philadelphia, and to invite feedback.
Philadelphia School Partnership and Great Schools Compact have had discussions with the District about common enrollment. Gobreski said so far the push by EdVoters PA has involved information-sharing and building support. EdVoters PA has put out a policy piece about common enrollment, stating its position and plans to campaign more around the issue over the next few months.
“Our plan is to start talking to the District about this in the spring,” Gobreski said.
If the District does adopt common enrollment, Gobreski said the implementation plan should be clearly thought out and paired with other strategies to ensure that community interests are met.
“One thing doesn’t solve a lot of problems,” she said. “A strategy like this is limited unless it is supported with other strategies.”
Correction: In the print version of this story (4th paragraph from the bottom), the article incorrectly stated that the groups have not met with the District on the issue of common enrollment. The Notebook regrets the error.