By Lida Dianti

With overcrowding, low student performance and unsuccessful education reform plaguing school systems in California, education officials have turned to a new, issue-specific instructional model for K-12 schooling. These magnet school programs, focusing on performing arts, science, math and advanced academics, among other topics, are very popular – so much so that the Los Angeles Unified School District recently approved a $3 million expansion of its magnet program. The money will fund three new magnet schools and 10 new magnet programs within traditional schools.

The intent is admirable. The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU SoCal) applauds LAUSD’s efforts to improve the quality of education for our children, particularly those who traditionally have attended under-resourced schools. But we are concerned that these efforts could inadvertently lead to a two-tiered school system that will leave many students behind and amplify existing inequities.
Even with its planned expansion, LAUSD’s magnet programming will only be available to a fraction of students. Enrollment rates in existing magnet programs have increased significantly in the last two years; LAUSD put 23,000 students on a waiting list this year alone.

Because admissions are lottery based and the number of available spaces at a given school are limited, ACLU SoCal is concerned that the students who don’t make it into a magnet program won’t receive the same chance for a premium education as the lucky students who, literally, win the lottery. LAUSD must ensure that the $3 million expansion, and subsequent funding required for specialized programs and curricula, does not come at the expense of adequate funding and resource distribution for students attending non-magnet schools.

LAUSD has justified its move toward expansion by pointing to the achievements of students enrolled in magnet schools, particularly the 16 percent of magnet students who attend highly gifted academic programs. But it behooves school districts to provide equal resources for all students, not just a lucky or gifted subset.

“LAUSD must invest in all of its students. The quality of education a student receives should not be determined by chance,” said Victor Leung, staff attorney at ACLU SoCal.

ACLU SoCal contends that all students are entitled to a quality education.

Lida Dianti is communications intern at the ACLU of Southern California.