A divided Baltimore school board approved a policy change last night that gives qualified city students preference over suburban residents in applying to prestigious public high schools.
Baltimore's citywide magnet high schools - those with entrance criteria - have selected students based on which applicants have the highest composite test scores and on other measures, regardless of where they live. So qualified city students could be turned away if noncity residents have higher scores.
Under the policy change, city students who meet the minimum composite score will be admitted over noncity residents, even if the county students score higher.
In all city schools, nonresidents will be permitted to apply for spots that city students do not fill.
The policy change will affect schools such as Polytechnic Institute, where 61 noncity residents pay tuition to attend even though 458 qualified city students were put on a wait list last year. At Western High, 31 county residents pay tuition, while 320 qualified city residents were wait-listed.
The Baltimore School for the Arts has 85 noncity residents enrolled, more than any other school in the system. But the school admits students based on a judged audition, accepting or rejecting them. Unlike the other citywide high schools, it does not keep a wait list, so it is unclear how many city students would have been qualified to fill the spots now filled by suburban residents.
A total of 183 suburban residents attend the citywide high schools this year.
Last year, the system received 1,056 applications from noncity residents to attend Baltimore's citywide high schools. Within the city, 5,666 students applied. About a third of all students who applied to the citywide high schools were accepted.
The board approved the policy change on a 6-3 vote over the objections of member Kalman "Buzzy" Hettleman, who said the changes were made at the last minute. He said that neither the board nor the public had a chance to review the final version of the policy.
While Hettleman said he supported the intent of the policy, he maintained that the process "set a terrible precedent."
City schools chief Andres Alonso said the substance of the policy had not changed from earlier versions that were made public. "Quite frankly, Mr. Hettleman, you're wasting our time," he said.
Also last night, the school board voted to renew the contracts of seven charter schools for five years. In a 5-4 vote, the board gave a five-year renewal to Northwood-Appold Community Academy. Alonso had recommended that the board only extend that school's contract for two years.
Four charter schools received two-year contract extensions: Collington Square Charter, City Springs Charter, Inner Harbor East Academy for Young Scholars and Southwest Baltimore Charter. Most of those schools have posted low test scores in the past few years. In the case of Southwest, test scores were not yet available.
In addition to Northwood-Appold, the other schools that got five-year contract renewals are City Neighbors Charter, Midtown Academy, KIPP Ujima Village Academy, Hampstead Hill Academy, Crossroads School and Empowerment Academy.
Charter schools are public schools that operate under contracts with local school boards, running independently in exchange for accountability on results.