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Local: Education

More than 17,000 names on charter school waiting lists

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Photo - Two Rivers Public Charter School in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Two Rivers Public Charter School in D.C. (Examiner file photo)
Local,DC,Education,Lisa Gartner

Students on the waiting list for admission to E.L. Haynes Public Charter School's earliest grades are in good company -- if more than 3,000 children count as "company" rather than Disney World on a sunny day.

Waiting lists for the city's public charter schools are running a total 17,396 names deep, according to the D.C. Public Charter School Board. That's 51 percent of the total number of students successfully enrolling in the city's public charter schools in the fall, or 33,699 children. This year, 31,562 students attended charter schools, while 45,630 attended DC Public Schools.

"These numbers are a powerful indicator of D.C. families' demand for more quality school options," said Scott Pearson, executive director of the Charter School Board. "We realize there is a large gap between that demand and available slots, and we remain committed to ... transforming public education so that more D.C. children can attend the school of their choice."

Students were able to add their names to multiple schools' waiting lists, meaning fewer than 17,000 youths are likely waiting for admission. A spokeswoman for the charter school board said she did not know how many unique names are on waiting lists. This is the first year the charter board has compiled the data.

While some charter schools still have open seats after the citywide admissions lottery, 32 of 98 campuses have more than 100 students on their waiting lists. After accepting its 2012-2013 batch of students, E.L. Haynes' preschool-second grade campus in Petworth still has 2,927 children waiting. An additional 1,240 are waiting at its campus for grades three through eight, and 652 are waiting for the charter's high school.

Two Rivers Public Charter School and Capital City Public Charter School both have campuses with more than 1,000 names on their waiting lists, as well.

"I don't want to discourage parents because we have found that seats open up after the school year begins -- especially in the upper grades," said Jessica Wodatch, executive director of Two Rivers. The charter has 94 students at its middle school, compared with 1,091 students waiting with fingers crossed for its elementary school.

Forty-one percent of the District's public school students attend charter schools -- a rate second only to New Orleans', and one that's likely to keep increasing. Enrollment is expected to increase 7 percent next school year, in step with consistently large increases over the last decade. Meanwhile, enrollment in the city's traditional system, DC Public Schools, has declined every year since 1969, except for the 2010-2011 school year.

Deputy Mayor for Education De'Shawn Wright released a report in January recommending three dozen failing public schools be closed or turned around, likely as charter schools. No decisions have been made, but the findings scared some communities, which fear the loss of neighborhood schools. Mayor Vincent Gray has warned that school closings are high on his radar.

David Pickens, executive director of DC School Reform Now, said he wasn't sure whether he supported the deputy mayor's findings, but "I am a strong proponent of the expansion of quality seats in D.C., and we want to do it in the least painful way," he said. "Our kids just can't afford to wait."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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