Citywide Education Progress Reports

HOUSTON: 20,000 Families Use New 10-Minute Process to Apply to Multiple Schools

Families living in the center of Houston have a number of options when it comes to school choice. They can apply to HISD magnet schools, HISD schools outside of the neighborhood boundary, schools in other districts, and charter schools. But even for families who know they have choice, navigating and making sense of the options remains a major challenge.

And for a city with as much school choice as Houston, it falters when it comes to streamlining the process for families. As of June 2018 there was still no information guide providing academic and curricular information for all schools and no common application or unified enrollment system.

To start to improve the application process, the regional nonprofit Families Empowered launched Apply Houston in 2017. Over 20,000 families applied during the first year’s application window. And for the first time in Houston, the year’s application data across schools will be used to help identify demand trends.

The portal streamlines only the application process—enrollment and lotteries are still run by individual schools or networks—and in the inaugural year the portal only accounted for about 50 of the city’s 156 charter schools.

But this is still a significant step toward making school choice easier for families, especially those who have fewer resources. And the portal is an excellent example of starting to streamline wherever possible—in this case, among willing charter networks. Looking forward for Houston parents, a truly streamlined choice system should first include unified enrollment for all charter schools, and then for all choice options.

View Houston’s citywide education progress report.

The Center on Reinventing Public Education is a research and policy analysis center at the University of Washington Bothell developing systemwide solutions for K–12 public education. Questions? Email