If you think March Madness is just college basketball, think again. Parents in Washington, DC participate in “March Madness” of their own as they hunt for that wonderful school – whether it’s a charter school or a traditional DC public school. The hunt began for some at the DC Public Charter School Expo in January where they took a look at nearly 60 charter schools showing their wares. This year 85 charter schools came together to make the process easier for parents with the “Your Charters Your Choice” campaign where parents had three common dates to remember: the March 15 deadline to apply to charter schools; the March 22 lottery date for those charter schools that had more applicants than spaces; and April 12: the deadline to accept a charter school lottery space if they were lucky enough to snag one. Most of all, parents could find applications to all the charter schools in one location – on the “Your Charters Your Choice” website.
Each charter school conducts its own lottery; however, every school follows the same fundamental rules. Each school put all interested students who applied by March 15 into a pool, mixed up the names, and drew the lucky winders. No applicants, short of siblings of students currently attending the school, got priority. After the lucky “winners” were chosen, the remaining names were placed on wait-lists.
Since January, a parent has been sharing her quest to find that perfect school that provides a pre-kindergarten program for her three- and- a- half- year-old son. After the Expo she had narrowed her list to about 10 schools. She visited some Open Houses and applied to her list of favorite schools and waited for decision day. She appreciated having one common application date for charter schools, but wished the charter schools had one application for all schools, and one lottery for all charter schools -- where you rank your top six choices and you would only get into one school. She also said it would be great if the whole application process were on one computerized system. PCSB is also in favor of making the process of exercising choice easier for families and is researching the possibility of having a single system and common application for all DC public charter schools and perhaps even all DC public schools.
So how did this parent fare with her search? She got a space at one charter school and one DCPS school via the out of boundary application process. Unfortunately, neither school was her first choice. She’s also wait-listed at eight charter schools. Now comes the hard part – she must decide by April 12 whether to accept the space at the charter school. She would love to get a spot at one of the schools she is wait-listed at but doesn’t know if she should hold out for this spot, as she may not get the call until late summer, or even after the school year has started. So, she feels compelled to accept one of the two offers. Once she accepts a spot at either school, she will be asked to commit to that school—and only that school. It’s an agonizing choice. And, to think, she has to do this over again in a couple of years for her daughter.
While PCSB does not know how many students applied to charter schools this year, schools say they saw an increase in applications. By the end of April, PCSB will publish the waiting lists at charter schools.