Local: Education

Charter school waitlists hit 22,000

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye

The District's public charter schools saw a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of children on schools' waitlists this year, with roughly 22,000 students vying for seats, the Public Charter School Board announced Thursday.

By comparison, the same waitlists had roughly 15,000 names last year.

"This is a depressingly high number that testifies to the continued strong demand for quality schools among D.C. families and the ongoing shortage of enough quality seats to meet parent demand," charter board Executive Director Scott Pearson said of the latest charter school hopefuls.

Charter school or Ivy League?
Some popular D.C. charter schools admitted between 3 and 7 percent of applicants this year, which made them tougher to gain entrance to than some Ivy League universities.
School Admission rate
Harvard 5.8 percent
Yale 6.7 percent
Columbia 6.9 percent
Princeton 7.3 percent
Brown 9.2 percent
Dartmouth 10.1 percent
University of Pennsylvania 12.1 percent
Cornell 15.2 percent

The city's 57 charter schools enroll 34,673 students -- 43 percent of the District's public school students -- on 102 campuses.

The majority of wait-listed students are waiting for seats at top-performing -- "tier 1" -- charters. Though there are 1,000 seats available at schools, according to Pearson, most students are waiting for seats at schools where no seats are available. The charter board plans to release more specific information about which schools still have seats and how many applicants each school had next week.

The most competitive seats are in the earlier grades, with roughly 14,000 students vying for seats in the four grades from prekindergarten-age 3 through first grade, according to Pearson.

The chances of gaining entrance are more difficult for those without a sibling already enrolled. At Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, a top-tier school in Ward 5, every prekindergarten seat went to a sibling of a current student this year, forcing every other applicant onto the waitlist.

The list of applicants includes some who have applied at more than one school, inflating the numbers, Pearson noted.

At the same time, schools also continue to accept applicants after their lotteries are over. At schools like E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, a top-performing school in Ward 1 offering prekindergarten through 10th grade, that means the nearly 2,000-person waitlist is still growing, said Richard Pohlman, the school's chief of operations and policy.

Waitlists like E.L. Haynes' or KIPP DC Public Charter School's 2,500-person list can make the charter school admission process daunting for parents, even causing some to turn away from charters.

Garvey McIntosh's first choice for his 3-year-old daughter, Anya, is E.L. Haynes, but she's roughly 40th on that school's waitlist. And she is behind more than 400 kids on the list at Capital City Public Charter School. That means Anya could very likely be at her neighborhood DC Public School, Garrison Elementary in Ward 2, when the school year commences, McIntosh said.

Melanie Coburn said she would love for her son Dexter to get off E.L. Haynes' waiting list, but she does not know how likely that is. She has already enrolled him at two other schools, one public and one private, just in case.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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