The U.S. Department of Education provided Chalkbeat with copies of applications that were submitted for the Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities grant program in 2017. The $12 million initiative was meant to help school districts start or continue efforts to make schools more socioeconomically diverse.
Chalkbeat looked at the proposals of the 17 largest school districts that applied to understand what districts wanted to do with this money. We also contacted each school district to see if they were able to accomplish their integration plans on their own. (For a full list of applicants, see our methodology at the bottom of this page.)
Here’s what we found:
🔗Austin Independent School District: Launch a pilot program to diversity schools in east and northeast Austin, buy new enrollment software, and create a diversity office.
What happened after the grant was canceled? Austin moved forward with a committee tasked with looking at ways to integrate schools in this part of the city, and the district plans to open a new middle school in northeast Austin that will likely have a diverse student body in 2022. But the district didn’t move forward with its larger plan to integrate schools.
The integration plan “was competing with so many other priorities… we needed additional funding to help with that,” said Jacob Reach, the chief of staff to the schools superintendent.
🔗Boston Public Schools: Expand access to advanced coursework in elementary schools to boost socioeconomic and racial diversity.
What happened after the grant was canceled? Boston moved forward with launching “Excellence for All,” a program that offers advanced coursework to students in third to sixth grades in certain elementary schools, instead of only those students who test in. It’s intended to provide greater access to rigorous classes to more low-income black and Hispanic students. But the district only offers these courses in 15 of its some 70 elementary schools. In its grant application, the district had set a goal of reaching 40% of elementary schools in five years.
“It is still the district’s plan to grow the pilot,” said district spokesperson Dan O’Brien via email. “We are looking forward to the results of an ongoing NYU study… in order to consider and plan for growth.”
🔗Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: Evaluate how magnet school lottery priorities are affecting the socioeconomic makeup of schools.
What happened after the grant was canceled? District spokesperson Renee McCoy said via email that the individuals who worked on the application are no longer with the district, and current staff say the district didn’t move forward with the initiatives as they were written.
But it’s worth noting that Charlotte-Mecklenburg did continue to evaluate how a new socioeconomic weight that’s part of its magnet school lottery affected school demographics and it’s shown some progress in making schools more diverse. The district is still working to integrate schools, most notably with an initiative that pairs up a handful of elementary schools so they’re more racially and socioeconomically diverse. But McCoy noted that these efforts predated the grant application.
🔗Denver Public Schools: Develop a plan to increase socioeconomic diversity in schools by improving the district’s enrollment system, exploring boundary changes and analyzing transportation needs.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “I would say that we weren’t able to achieve the original goals of the grant however we were able to make some other progress on integration,” said Dustin Kress, a senior operations program manager for the district, via email.
Kress pointed to the work of a committee that issued recommendations in December 2017 aimed at desegregating schools. Since then, the district has begun reserving more seats at popular schools for students who move over the summer — who are more likely to be low-income and struggling academically — and officials are looking to expand a pilot program that gives students from low-income families priority to enroll in schools attended mostly by students from affluent families.
🔗Duval County Public Schools: Identify a group of schools with the high potential for integration, and launch a pilot program to make them more socioeconomically diverse.
What happened after the grant was canceled? District spokesperson Tracy Pierce said via email that the officials involved with the grant application had left the district.
🔗Hernando County School District: Convert all schools into charter schools, and try to attract more affluent families to rural schools that serve mostly low-income families.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “Unfortunately without funding from the Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities grant, it is not a viable option for our district at this time,” the district’s director of federal programs, Angela Kennedy, said via email.
🔗Houston Independent School District: Create a plan to boost socioeconomic diversity, and add specialty programs to two middle schools to make them more attractive to affluent families.
What happened after the grant was canceled? Later in 2017, the district launched a program called “Achieve 180” aimed at improving struggling schools, including the two middle schools that were targeted for intervention in the grant application. This program incorporates “elements of the grant proposal,” the press office said via email. The schools were provided with additional staff and a “recruitment and retention stipend” to help attract high-quality teachers and administrators. “The denial of the funds has not stopped the district from meeting the needs of our underperforming and underserved campuses,” the district’s press office said.
The two schools have shown no signs of becoming more racially or socioeconomically diverse since then.
🔗Indianapolis Public Schools: Hire a researcher to analyze data, hold parent and community focus groups, evaluate existing programs, and come up with a plan to increase socioeconomic diversity in schools.
What happened after the grant was canceled? Not receiving the grant “did not impede our efforts,” said Patrick Herrel, the district’s director of enrollment and options. In the past few years, Indianapolis has proceeded with changes to its magnet admissions to reduce the significant advantages that wealthier and white families often had to get into the most popular programs. By moving to a common enrollment system, giving fewer families priority based on where they live, and holding seats back for families who apply later, the district’s magnet schools have become more socioeconomically and racially diverse, though they are still not as diverse as neighborhood schools.
🔗Metro Nashville Public Schools: Try to increase the socioeconomic diversity in three struggling schools by getting rid of attendance boundaries and offering special programs.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “Our district did not ultimately pursue the specific strategies outlined in the grant proposal at the schools mentioned,” said district spokesperson Sean Braisted by email. “The primary goal of the grant proposal was to enhance educational opportunities at Buena Vista, Jere Baxter and Pearl-Cohn [schools] with the hopes of increasing diversity by attracting higher-income families through new arts and business focused program offerings and a new summer camp. Without the grant funding, and without adequate additional state or local funding in FY18-19, the district was not able to allocate the additional staff resources to implement those programs.”
Braisted added that “maintaining and expanding diversity among all socio-economic factors” is still an important goal for the district.
Last year, the district closed its office that oversaw diversity and equity initiatives, citing budget cuts, reports Nashville’s NPR affiliate.
🔗Minneapolis Public Schools: Study desegregation strategies used in other districts, hold a dozen community conversations, and come up with a plan to increase socioeconomic diversity in low-performing schools.
What happened after the grant was canceled? A district spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment. Last month, the district’s superintendent presented a plan to address racial inequities and school segregation that the school board is expected to vote on next year. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the plan isn’t as focused on redrawing attendance boundaries or reassigning students as it was earlier this year, but that the district may still alter student “pathways” and reconfigure grade levels in elementary and middle schools.
🔗New York City Department of Education: Evaluate potential of year-old diversity in admissions initiative and create a toolkit to help schools recruit more diverse student bodies.
What happened after the grant was canceled? Last year, school integration plans were approved in two parts of the city. In one Brooklyn district, middle schools that got rid of competitive screens and moved to a lottery-based admissions system are showing signs of becoming more racially and socioeconomically integrated. “We are already seeing promising results from our efforts to create meaningfully integrated schools and look forward to this continued success,” said district spokesperson Katie O’Hanlon via email. The city council recently voted to make the city’s remaining school districts come up with their own integration plans.
🔗Oakland Unified School District: Integrate students by supporting and expanding dual language programs, improve the district’s enrollment system, and plan for better transportation.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “Some efforts at modifying elements of the enrollment priorities were investigated but given the challenges we were facing in terms of the Blueprint [a long-term district plan to overhaul academics and facilities], it was decided that this was not the right time for these kinds of policy shifts, which understandably would be potentially controversial,” said the district’s spokesperson, John Sasaki, via email.
Sasaki added that applying for this grant helped build support for the district’s Opportunity Ticket program, which gives students whose schools have closed or merged first preference to attend other schools.
🔗Pasadena Unified School District: Create a new school application process and student assignment policy that promotes socioeconomic integration.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “Pasadena included key partners and strategies from the Opening Doors grant proposal as part of a broader approach to socioeconomic integration” when the district applied for and won a $14.5 million federal magnet schools grant, said the district’s spokesperson, Hilda Ramirez Horvath, via email.
Using that money, the district opened three new magnet schools and hired consultants who made a series of recommendations last year to integrate schools. The district made some changes to its open enrollment policy in an attempt to expand access to popular specialty schools, such as allowing families to list as many schools as they want and letting families be on multiple waiting lists at once.
But the district still uses a random lottery to assign students to these specialty schools during open enrollment, which doesn’t take into consideration a student’s socioeconomic background. The consultants had proposed that the district move to a “controlled choice” plan, in which every school in the district would be part of that application process, and the lottery would weigh a student’s socioeconomic status when making assignments.
🔗Polk County Public Schools: Overhaul the student enrollment system and establish a “controlled choice” plan with the goal of making schools more socioeconomically diverse.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “This project was … to develop a blueprint for the implementation of choice in the district, with a specific emphasis on socioeconomic integration and school improvement,” said Carolyn Bridges, who oversees the district’s innovation office. “Since funding for the project was pulled, other funding sources as well as community support were utilized to further support schools, but not to the level that would have been completed had the grant been awarded to Polk County.”
The district has recently invested in a new online enrollment system aimed at making it easier for families to choose schools, Bridges said, and the district is helping schools market and promote themselves to families, but “not to the level and consistency that the grant would have afforded.”
The district’s magnet school enrollment system takes into consideration a student’s race, socioeconomic status, disability status and language abilities, Bridges said, but: “We were unable to expand the system further than the 26 current magnet and choice schools, since no funding was available to develop and implement the project.”
🔗St. Louis Public Schools: Identify 10 schools with the potential to become more socioeconomically diverse, and consider options like merging schools or changing boundaries, admissions policies and feeder patterns.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “Because the school integration grant program was canceled, we were not able to move forward with many of the pieces outlined in the grant proposal,” the district’s spokesperson, Meredith Pierce, said via email. “However, the spirit of the proposal has continued. We have a pilot going right now with two of our neighborhood elementary schools that fail to represent the demographics of the surrounding community. We are doing targeted recruitment of underrepresented populations in those neighborhoods. This has been made possible through our partnerships with community groups. Once we review how this pilot went, we will determine whether to expand the efforts in other schools with similar demographic issues.”
🔗Tulsa Public Schools: Hold community forums, visit other school districts, and redesign elementary schools in a way that increases socioeconomic diversity.
What happened after the grant was canceled? Tulsa continued to work on redesigning schools with private funding. “One of the goals of this project was to give students a voice in design decisions made about their schools,” said Joseph Fraier, the district’s design lab director, via email, “but, the goal was not to change the demographic make-up of any school.”
🔗Wichita Public Schools: Improve academics and recruit more diverse student bodies to four struggling magnet schools that have resegregated in the last decade.
What happened after the grant was canceled? “When we did not receive the grant, it extremely limited our opportunity to expand the programming and the resources at each of those schools,” said Tiffinie Irving, the district’s deputy superintendent. “The goal of the application was to be able to promote those [schools] to an extent that they would attract students from all parts of the city. And that has not occurred to the level that we would want.”
The district was able to make some small investments in technology and teacher training at the schools targeted for intervention, she said, but their student bodies have not become more diverse.
Chalkbeat received 28 applications for the Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities grant program from the U.S. Department of Education. We decided to focus on applications from the 17 largest school districts, as their plans had the potential to impact the largest number of students.
The other applicants included: Hawaii Department of Education; Nash-Rocky Mount Schools in North Carolina; Moore County Schools in North Carolina; Mount Vernon City School District in New York; Meridian Community Unit School District 101 and East St. Louis School District 189 in Illinois (a joint application); St. James Parish Schools in Louisiana; Vassar Public Schools in Michigan; Better Choice Foundation in Louisiana (a charter operator); Tallulah Charter School in Louisiana; Ramah Navajo School Board/Pine Hill Schools in New Mexico (Bureau of Indian Affairs); and T-Phaze Learning Center in Maryland (a day care).
Chalkbeat did not include the Hawaii Department of Education’s application in its analysis of the 17 largest districts because it proposed to serve as a pass-through agency to award money to schools, but did not include its own school integration proposal.