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Officials call for plan to increase L.A. Unified enrollment

January 10, 2012 |  6:40 pm

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday directed staff to develop a plan to increase district enrollment by at least 5%. The nation’s second-largest school system has shrunk rapidly in recent years because of declining birth rates, population shifts and an exodus of students to nearly 200 independently managed charter schools.

The plan may include an expansion of successful and popular magnet programs, which began as part of a voluntary integration effort. More than 20,000 students end up on waiting lists and 5,000 of these  attend charter schools, private schools or public schools outside L.A. Unified, said  board member Steve Zimmer.

“We have programs that families have chosen,” Zimmer said. But the school system has lacked “a strategic blueprint for expanding enrollment.” Declining enrollment and resources are not bad tidings the school system “should just automatically accept.”

The proposal, which was adopted unanimously, also called for increased testing to identify gifted students and for giving parents the opportunity to select three magnet programs a year from now. The current application allows one choice, although savvy parents frequently get into back-up preferences by asking about open seats before the start of the school year.

At its next meeting, the school board is expected to take up an open-enrollment resolution backed by school board President Monica Garcia. She said Tuesday that she had no specific changes in mind, but wanted to initiate a discussion about how giving parents more choices and rethinking conventional district policies could ultimately improve academic achievement and lower the dropout rate.

-- Howard Blume