It’s no secret that Dallas ISD is losing students. Private schools and homeschooling have for decades appealed to some parents with resources. More recently, charter schools, also funded with public tax dollars, have begun attracting parents from across the socioeconomic spectrum.
This is a problem for Dallas ISD because for every student who leaves its schools, the district loses funding. And, for every out-of-district student who attends a Dallas ISD school, the district collects additional state dollars.
A top board goal is that “Dallas ISD schools will be the primary choice for families in the district.” And though not explicitly stated, trustees apparently don’t mind being the top choice for non-district families, either.
In recent months, northeast Dallas Trustee Dan Micciche highlighted the fact that “at several of our magnet schools, we have a number of out-of-district students, while at the same time, we have a large number of in-district students on the wait list.”
Board policy requires in-district families to be served first. He pressed administrators to “apply the current policy” and “to be more rigorous in making sure it is applied fairly.”
Trustee Bernadette Nutall argued that applying the policy counteracts the board’s goal “to become a district of choice for students.” She asked administrators to provide the dollar amount the district would forgo if it blocked out-of-district students from its magnet schools. She also pointed out that Dallas ISD’s newest school of choice, CityLab High School in downtown Dallas, is reserving 30 percent of its seats for out-of-district students. Hulcy STEAM Middle School, another DISD school of choice near the district’s southern border, also gives admission priority to students outside the district’s boundaries who live within a certain radius of the school.
Nutall said she “would like to draft a policy that we would take 30 percent of our kids at magnet schools [from] out of the district.”
“We talk about, we’re losing kids, we’re losing kids, but yet you have kids, and magnets are an attraction for people to come to your district,” Nutall said. “We gotta make up our minds what we’re doing here, board members.”
Nutall’s district includes nationally renowned Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. Also in her district, which spans from East Dallas to downtown to southern Dallas, are neighborhood high schools Lincoln and Madison.
In the list of the top 20 of DISD’s 24 neighborhood high schools who send students to Booker T., Lincoln and Madison don’t even rank, despite being among the closest geographically. Out-of-district students rank fourth.
Nutall didn’t bring up any of this at either of the board briefings on out-of-district magnet students. She told administrators she wanted “evidence” of magnet schools letting in out-of-district students before in-district students.
“There are schools that had to have done that,” Elizalde responded, specifically mentioning Booker T. and Townview’s Science and Engineering Magnet (SEM) high school, before Nutall cut her off asking, “And what shows that?”
“Because there are out-of-district students currently at the school when there are waitlists of in-district students,” Elizalde said.
Even so, said Trustee Joyce Foreman, who represents southwestern Dallas, “I just don’t want to do anything to discourage a parent from wanting to send their kids to our schools, even if it’s a magnet school.” Her area of the district currently is the most susceptible to charter schools and even neighboring school districts to the south.
“We are in competition. And the district should not do anything that would make us lose students,” Foreman said. “We might look at revisiting some of the ways they get in, but I don’t think we do anything to discourage.”
The district may be just as likely to lose the in-district waitlisted students, pointed out Trustee Edwin Flores, who represents northwest Dallas.
“They end up going to parochial schools, or they end up going to private schools because they didn’t get into our magnets,” he said. “I know quite a few folks who have done that — good constituents, good folks who have their kids in elementary schools, and they love the elementary schools, and they don’t get into Travis [for talented and gifted students], and they don’t get into whatever, and they decide to leave the district.”
Micciche, the current board president, listened to all trustee concerns then reiterated his instruction to administrators to “be fair, legal, consistent and transparent,” invoking an oft-quoted phrase of Nutall’s.
“If we have out-of-district kids taking away opportunities from in-district kids contrary to board policy, then we need to know about it and we need to correct it.”
To learn more about Dallas ISD’s magnet school admission shortfalls, as well as the district’s new emphasis on choice schools, check out the other stories in this series:
• Which students add more value to magnets: Dallas kids or Plano kids?
And don’t forget to read our December cover story that launched a deep dive into these issues.
Parents or students with questions about the magnet admission process or concerns about fellow students attending schools without proper documentation can contact Keisha Crowder-Davis at 972.925.6710 or firstname.lastname@example.org and can copy us at email@example.com.