Small percentage of displaced students enrolling in D.C. public schools

Only 13 percent of students from closing D.C. schools have signed up to stay in the traditional school system next year, Chancellor Kaya Henderson said Tuesday, raising questions about whether the school closures are driving families into charter schools.

Henderson said that enrollment numbers could be low because students are waiting to turn in paperwork for schools they intend to attend. But she acknowledged that the school system must intensify its efforts to market itself to families over the summer.

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“At the end of the day, the success of our consolidation effort will be judged largely by our ability to enroll students this upcoming year,” she said, testifying before the D.C. Council’s education committee Tuesday.

Henderson is closing 13 underenrolled schools this month, displacing more than 2,000 students. She set a goal of persuading 80 percent of those students to enroll in designated receiving schools.

Committee Chairman David A. Catania (I-At Large) pressed Henderson and her staff Tuesday, asking them to produce evidence that they have reached out to parents as aggressively as they promised to do.

Missing enrollment targets next year will mean reduced funding, programming and staffing the following year, Catania said, creating “another rendezvous with instability, the likes of which drive people from DCPS.”

Of 17 designated receiving schools, eight have filled less than one-third of their available seats for next year, according to school system documents. Only five have filled more than half their projected seats. Citywide, traditional schools have filled half of their projected seats for next year.

Henderson said that many families wait until later in the summer to turn in enrollment forms for neighborhood schools, which they have a right to attend no matter when they show up.

But some families haven’t signed up for other options because they “are refusing to accept that this is going to happen,” Henderson said, referring to the school closures.

Council Member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) said recruitment might be slow because schools with low proficiency rates, including many traditional schools in Southeast, just aren’t attractive to parents who have many other choices.

“It’s hard for me to market something that can’t be marketed,” Barry said.

Henderson said she would provide the council with monthly updates on student recruitment efforts.

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