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  • Writer's pictureVicky Keston

SFUSD Kindergarten Lottery Truths

Updated: Oct 7, 2022

Today’s blog will answer the most common questions about the SFUSD lottery. For a thorough background on the current SFUSD lottery mechanics, read this article; for Round 1 strategy advice, read this article. The elementary school lottery will change for students who will start or change elementary schools in fall 2026 or later; read this article for a briefing of what we know so far about the new process.

How many schools can I list?

In Round 1, you can list as many schools as you’d like. It’s in your best interest to list any school that you would consider sending your child to. If you don’t match with a school on your list, the computer will match you to the closest school (by mileage not time!) with openings – after everyone else has matched.

Will the district match me lower if I list more schools?

No! The computer will match you on the highest possible match. You will not decrease your chances of matching with your first choice by listing more schools. Nobody is looking to make you unhappy, but the system will not give you more odds of that top choice if you will end up unmatched. For instance, listing only three schools will not stop the district from matching you lower; rather, listing only three schools increases the odds of your child matching with a school not on your list and not near your home.

I don’t like my AA school. Is it ok not to list it?

Always list your assignment area school because this school has tiebreakers for you. If you prefer other schools, list the AA school after them, last if you prefer. If you don’t match with a school on your list, the computer will match you with the nearest school (by mileage not traffic or bus routes) with space after everyone else has matched. Ask yourself, would you rather have a school you don’t prefer that’s near your home or a school you don’t prefer that’s far away or in congested traffic?

Will I hurt my chances at my AA school if I list a long shot dream school first?

No! Each school is run as an individual lottery without regards to where you list it, and assigned each child a “number” or ranking based on tiebreakers and, within each tiebreaker, a random lottery. Next, the computer assigns your child at your highest ranked match, with the computer moving everyone up once children are removed from their lower ranked matches. For example, if you “win” the lottery at choices 2, 5, and 8, you will be assigned choice 2; you are removed from the lists at choices 5 and 8 so that the schools can fill. This is all invisible to you as you receive only one assignment.

Am I guaranteed a spot at our AA school?

No, SFUSD does not guarantee the AA school. The AA residents receive a tiebreaker, so it is always worth listing the school.

What is the CTIP tiebreaker? Is it a guarantee?

Those living in the census tracks with the lowest decile of test scores receive a CTIP1 tiebreaker. This tiebreaker was chosen as a proxy for families with underprivileged backgrounds because race and ethnicity are not legal factors in public school assignments. This tiebreaker is not a guarantee.

I own a rental property in a CTIP1 zone or an attractive AA zone. Can I use this address in the lottery?

No, you must use the address where your child lives.

My child's other parent and I are separated or divorced. Which address should we use? Can we both enter the lottery for our child?

If you share custody, you may use either parent's address. You cannot enter the lottery twice for one child. If you cannot agree on the list with the other parent, you will need to discuss with your lawyer or, if possible, your mediator.

What is the SFUSD preK/TK tiebreaker? Will I get a tiebreaker if I attend a PreK or TK outside my AA? Would I have to apply to kindergarten from the SFUSD preK/TK?

SFUSD has two types of PreK/TK. Those programs, for instance Grattan PreK or West Portal TK, are considered Assignment Area, are general education programs, and provide among the highest tiebreakers (after younger siblings) for students who both live in the AA and attend an SFUSD preK or TK in the AA. Those programs considered Citywide could be K-8 or at a Citywide elementary, for instance Rooftop and SF Public Montessori, and provide among the highest tiebreakers (after younger siblings) for students who attend their preK or TK and apply for the kindergarten. All SFUSD preK and TK students must apply for kindergarten in the lottery.

What is the SFUSD foreign language “program” tiebreaker? Will it apply for a private immersion preschool?

Students who attend an SFUSD preK or TK that’s in a foreign language will receive the top tiebreaker for all kindergartens in the same foreign language. Currently, SFUSD offers preK in Spanish and Cantonese, and TK in Spanish. Private preschools receive no tiebreaker.

How do I apply to charter schools? Do I need to rank them with my SFUSD schools? Can I be assigned both a district and charter school?

Charter schools run lotteries independent of SFUSD. You do need to apply to each charter directly via their website. You don’t need to rank them at all. You can absolutely win a charter lottery spot and will always receive an SFUSD assignment if you enter the lottery.

If I hold out through the first week of school, am I assured a space at my first choice?

No! While all SFUSD schools have some movement the first week of school, not all schools clear their wait pools. It’s always best to list more schools earlier on and have a backup that is public. Remember that private schools will hold you to a year’s tuition if you cancel after the contracted cancellation date. So public schools are your best backup for public schools.

Need more help?

Vicky consults with families to help select public and private schools in San Francisco. Email to learn more about her services.

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