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Unified Enrollment: Helping a whole city of kids get better access to schools

by Sarah Carpenter

The Memphis Lift’s mission is to make the powerless parent powerful. This past Saturday at our third anniversary party, we shared our vision to create a more equitable school system in Memphis that serves ALL families – not just the rich, white or connected ones: Unified Enrollment.

Sarah Carpenter

Over the years, we’ve talked with parents and grandparents who are frustrated with their neighborhood schools, and are drowning in the process to enroll their children in high-performing schools. 

They know their babies are not getting the education they deserve, but parents can’t always always find a solution. The truth is, when parents can’t get access to quality schools, then real school choice doesn’t exist. 

It’s as if the enrollment system is stacked against us, trapping our kids in failing schools and passing them along grade to grade.

We are empowering parents and grandparents to navigate the system, investigate their options, and fight for their kids to get a quality education.

In Memphis, parents do have options. We have two districts serving our kids, Shelby County Schools (SCS) and the Achievement School District (ASD); and school types that include traditional schools, public charter schools, optional schools and iZone schools. And there are different enrollment processes and deadlines for each. 

Parents must track down the requirements, jump through hoops, adhere to every deadline, and in some cases just get lucky for their children to get into schools that will best fit their needs.

This is hard enough for parents enrolling one child. The process becomes even more complex when enrolling multiple children in multiple schools, all while trying to ensure each will receive a high-quality education.

In just three years,  we’ve helped more than 200 families understand their options, and we’ve trained more than 300 community members through our Public Advocacy Fellowship. 

But for every parent we help – we know there are hundreds more facing similar barriers.

It’s time to establish Unified Enrollment in Memphis and level the playing field for all families.

A Unified Enrollment system would create a single enrollment application and timeline for all public schools serving the city of Memphis regardless of district, and an equitable matching system to help students and families get into their school of choice.

By bringing everything in one centralized location, parents only have to visit one place to find information on every option and enroll their students. 

Not only is this system simpler for parents, but also students will have a greater chance of attending a school that fits their needs. 

When parents are empowered with true choice, the schools and districts benefit, too. Schools gain a clearer picture of what their annual enrollment and budget needs will be. Districts learn what parents want and what’s working, so they can see which schools could serve as models to build a system of schools that serve student needs.

Ultimately, our goal is to lift academic achievement across the city so there are more high quality schools serving our students. When more parents are able to exercise true school choice, all schools become incentivized to improve in order to attract and retain students. 

Unified Enrollment can help a whole city of kids get access to good schools. And we believe parents and their students deserve a simplified enrollment process that is transparent and fair.

So we’re calling on elected officials, school leaders, parents and students to help us bring Unified Enrollment to Memphis.

It’s time we come together to work for a high-quality education for every student in the city of Memphis – no matter who they are or where they live.

(Sarah Carpenter is the executive director of The Memphis Lift. To find out more about The Memphis Lift, https://memphislift.org/.)

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