8,640 kids on D.C. charter school waitlists are 8,640 too many

The DC Public Charter School Board is touting the fact that four new charter schools are opening this school year.  These are Breakthrough Montessori PCS, Washington Leadership Academy PCS, Goodwill Excel Center PCS, and Rocketship Rise Academy PCS.  The total number of seats these institutions will provide at this time is 985.

Please excuse me if I don’t jump up and down about the news.  It has been estimated by the PCSB that there are 8,640 students on charter school waitlists for the 2016 to 2017 term, an increase of 1.3 percent from last year.  This is an incredibly frustrating situation.

What is a parent of one of these children on a waitlist supposed to do?  For all you charter supporters out there we are sending a clear message that the answer may be to get out of town.  When my children were small my wife and I would do anything we needed to do to obtain a quality education for them.  There is perhaps nothing more important to increase the odds of them enjoying a successful life.   I can only imagine the agonizing conversations around the dinner table about what steps to take when as a mom or dad you cannot get your son or daughter into the school of your choice.

In addition, the situation is only going to get worse.  At this rate of opening new spots it would take almost nine years to eliminate the waitlist.  But more and more people are moving into our city.  Scott Pearson, the PCSB executive director, estimated that the nation’s capital will need 50 new schools in the next 10 years.  The way things are going we are almost guaranteeing these will be DCPS facilities.

During the last school year charters enrolled 44.5 percent of all public school students.  This number has been about the same for several terms.  But if charters were able to absorb all kids on waitlists they would be educating just a fraction shy of half of all pupils in public schools.  Reaching the 50 percent mark would dramatically change the political landscape for these innovative schools.

We are fortunate in that we have some really smart people living in our community.  I bet that the heads of FOCUS, the DC PCSB, CityBridge Foundation, Building Hope, Ten Square, New Schools Venture Fund, the D.C. Association of Public Chartered Schools, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, and the Center for Education Reform can solve this puzzle.  Please remember that our Deputy Mayor for Education, Jennie Niles, founded E.L. Haynes PCS, one of the leading charters in our town.

When it comes to the charter school waitlist, enough is really enough.

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