With common enrollment, a thousand more kids applied to IPS magnet schools

A new application system that allowed Indianapolis families to apply to many schools through a single website dramatically increased the number of students seeking spots in Indianapolis Public Schools magnet programs. But it’s not yet clear whether that growth will help diversify some sought-after schools, one of the district’s key goals.

The enrollment figures, some presented at Tuesday’s school board meeting, are the latest information available on the first year of the ambitious common enrollment system known as Enroll Indy. The website allows families to apply for more than 50 charter and magnet schools using a single application that ranks their choices.

In total, about 8,500 students used Enroll Indy to apply for spots in charter and magnet schools. About 3,800 of those children applied for spots in Indianapolis Public Schools magnet schools serving kindergarten through eighth grade, up from about 2,800 last year — a 33 percent jump.

The district does not yet know how many of the children who applied are students of color, because Enroll Indy does not ask for demographic information, Herrel said. But many of the new applicants came from low-income neighborhoods, according to the district report.

That’s important because the district has a diversity problem at some of its most sought-after magnet schools, which typically serve families that are more likely to be middle class and white than the district as a whole. Two years ago, the district changed the admission policies at those schools in a bid to increase diversity.

Those policy changes are helping to diversify the most popular magnet schools, slowly.

District officials say that Enroll Indy could help, and the nonprofit is doing outreach in neighborhoods where families have not applied to those schools historically.

“Enroll Indy had a street team that knocked on doors, that called families,” said Patrick Herrel, the district director of enrollment and options. “They are able to partner with us to push more families to know about this, to apply earlier.”

After the first year of experience, Enroll Indy could make some changes to the admission process, specifically the timeline for parents and schools.

This year, the admission process had three lottery cycles, with a total of 30 percent of kindergarten and seventh-grade seats in magnet schools held back for later cycles. That was meant to help low-income families, who typically apply to schools later in the year.

This year, Enroll Indy is considering eliminating the last admission cycle and extending the earlier cycles to make the process easier for schools and families. To make sure popular magnet schools are still getting diverse applicants, Indianapolis Public Schools is considering increasing the number of seats held for the second window to 50 percent.

Board member Kelly Bentley said she was fine with those changes, but raised another concern: The first cycle happens too late, and that could turn off parents who are considering schools that require a commitment before a family would hear from Indianapolis Public Schools.

“I’m thinking in terms of the competition in other places,” Bentley said.