D.C. charter school waitlists vary widely

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School as “Appleseed.”

Charter school waiting lists vary widely across the District, according to data released Monday by the D.C. Public Charter School Board that suggests demand tends to be greatest for early childhood programs and schools rated high-performing.

The highest-performing charter schools, ranked “Tier 1” by the charter board, together have the longest waitlists for admission next fall: nearly 14,000 combined names, including duplicates. In contrast, there are only 230 names on waiting lists for low-performing “Tier 3” schools.

“There is clearly a need for more high-quality education programs,” charter board spokeswoman Theola Labbé-DeBose wrote in an e-mail.

Some schools have built strong word-of-mouth reputations among parents despite being too new to be ranked by the charter board. Creative Minds International in Mount Pleasant, for example, is only in its first year of operations but has a waitlist next year of 868 students.

More than two dozen schools, meanwhile, still have empty seats and are seeking more students.

The Amos 3 campus of Community Academy Public Charter School has the most available space with 208 empty seats. It is ranked on the low end of Tier 2. Other schools with empty seats include brand-new schools that have yet to establish a reputation among parents, such as the Hebrew-immersion school Sela, and new campuses of established charter networks, including KIPP DC’s new location at the renovated Webb Elementary School in Ward 5.

Citywide, there are about 1,400 open seats.

This is the second year that the charter board has released waitlist numbers by school and by grade level. The data was collected between April 19 and May 3.

“We want to give parents not only information about where there are available slots but also the number of waitlists in each grade at each school, so that parents can make their own estimate of how likely or unlikely it might be to gain entry in the school were they to submit an application now,” Labbé-DeBose wrote.

Charter schools are open to students across the city, with lotteries conducted when demand exceeds space. The intense competition for the most sought-after schools has fueled debate about giving admissions preference to children who live nearby, but many charter advocates argue that would limit access for children from poor neighborhoods.

Altogether D.C. charter schools carry waitlists of more than 22,000 names, but it is not clear how many individual children that represents because the number includes duplicates. Families can apply to an unlimited number of charters, and many parents keep their children on more than one waiting list over the summer and into the fall.

Parents of the youngest children face some of the most intense competition: More than 12,000 names — again, including duplicates — appear on waitlists for kindergarten and public preschool for three- and four-year-olds.

The shortest waitlist for a charter school is one student at the Riverside campus of AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter School. The longest is 1,776 students at Two Rivers, a pre-kindergarten-8th grade expeditionary learning school.

For a complete list of school waitlists, click here. Here's a snapshot of campuses with the longest waitlists:

1. Two Rivers: 1,776 students

2. Capital City (Lower): 1,563 students

3. EL Haynes (Elementary campus): 1,442 students

4. Mundo Verde Bilingual: 1,226 students

5. Creative Minds: 868 students

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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