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Over the last 40 years, states and districts have increased choice among public schools through the creation of magnet, charter, and other specialized schools and through district-led open enrollment processes, among other approaches. These efforts, however, have at times created new inequities.

Families with greater access to information about schools and enrollment deadlines and those with more time and capacity to complete and submit applications are in a better position to exercise choice more effectively. Families also use whatever personal connections they have to help their children secure a seat in high-demand schools, which benefits some families more than others.

And families can maximize the likelihood of landing a spot for their children in preferred schools by juggling multiple offers and waitlists, leaving schools with unreliable enrollment information and favoring families with greater knowledge of the procedures and timelines different schools use.

To address these equity issues, a number of school districts, including Camden, Denver, Newark, and New Orleans, have adopted universal enrollment, also known as common enrollment, as a centralized admissions process defined by a common set of policies, procedures, and practices governing admission to traditional, magnet, and charter schools. Families participate in the universal enrollment process by submitting a single application with a ranked list of schools in which the family is prepared to have a child enroll. After the application deadline closes, a computer program matches students to schools using an algorithm designed to place students in their highest choice school that has available space.