University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Public School Choice Act of 2013

In The View from the OEP on February 4, 2015 at 10:30 am

During legislative sessions, we publish OEP Policy Briefs on issues that might be considered during the session.  Our brief on the preliminary analysis on impacts of The Public School Choice Act of 2013  (Act 1227 of 2013) was released today.  Act 1227 expires July 1, 2015, so it falls upon this legislature to decide the future of public school choice laws in Arkansas.

The Public School Choice Act of 2013 (Act 1227 of 2013) was passed during the 89th General Assembly of 2013. Unlike the School Choice Act of 1989, Act 1227 allows students to transfer into a different public school districts regardless of race, but does include several restrictions. First, transfers cannot result in a net change in the district’s average daily membership of more than 3%. Furthermore, districts can limit transfers in if capacity is limited. The last restriction is that districts that are under desegregation orders can declare themselves exempt from allowing students to transfer into or out of the district. If you want to read more background on this issue, please check out our Arkansas Education Report on the Public School Choice Act of 2013.

We were pleased to see that we have chosen to publish this morning’s Policy Brief on the Public School Choice Act on the same day that a new bill, Senate Bill 179 – TO AMEND THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICE ACT OF 2013, is on the agenda of this morning’s Senate Education Committee meeting! The bill was filed last week (January 29, 2015) and will likely receive some attention over the coming weeks.

In that light, as legislators consider what to do with this law, the OEP (which focuses on evidence and data) believes that background data can be helpful to our policymakers and thus offers this Policy Brief which examines what changes have occurred in school districts across the state as a result of the Public School Choice Act of 2013. It is our hope that the information presented in this brief will be useful to those tasked with deciding how to amend the Public School Choice Law in the state of Arkansas.  So, what did we ask and what did we find?

The OEP Brief asked two key questions about the Public School Choice Act:

  1. Who is accessing School Choice?
  2. How is school choice affecting districts?
  3. Are there negative consequences of school choice?

If you don’t have time to surf over to our Policy Brief, here is a “Cliff’s Notes” version of our findings in bullet point format:

Who chooses?

  • Over 4,500 students in more than 200 districts are participating in school choice.  This represents approximately 1% of the public school students in the state.
  • While students from all racial and ethnic groups participate, white students were more likely to participate than other students. For example, in 2014-15, 83% of students requesting transfers through school choice were white. This is disproportionate to statewide enrollment of 63% white students.

How are districts affected?

  • Over 50% of districts are essentially unaffected by school choice, with changes in enrollment due to school choice +/- 1%.
  • There are clear patterns in which types of districts are more likely to see increases or decreases in student enrollment due to school choice:
    • decreasing enrollment districts, reporting a net loss greater than 1%,  are more economically disadvantaged and have lower student performance.
    • increasing enrollment districts, reporting a net gain greater than 1%, are more economically advantaged with higher levels of student performance.

Are there negative consequences?

  • Districts affected by school choice are not consistently getting more or less ethnically or racially diverse. There is very little change in the percent white enrollment due to school choice, regardless of the district enrollment demographics before school choice.
  • Districts losing students to school choice are not consistently demonstrating declines in enrollment.

We conclude our policy brief by discussing ways that Act 1227 might be changed.  Most importantly, the understanding of school choice impact can be improved through better data collection in the future. This initial analysis was based only on “net transfers” in and out of schools related to the school choice act and we can learn more by using more detailed data on individual student transfers. Moreover, we found that more than 20 non-exempt districts did not submit required school choice information for 2014-15 and that some of the data submitted did not reconcile the number of transfers in with the number of transfers out.

Stay tuned for further information about the school choice issue, including analysis of about denied transfer applications and details of 2014-15 student transfer patterns.

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