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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

How Wide is the Disparity between Public School and Charter Facility Space?

The DC Public Education Master Facilities Plan, which the D.C. Council recently held a hearing, is rich with data on how wide the facility disparity is between DC Public Schools (DCPS) and DC public charter schools.

The report breaks down the average gross square feet (GSF) per grade type, and compares the data between DC charters, DCPS, and national averages. At every level charters are making do with less space per student, most strikingly in middle school facilities where charters only have 28% of the square footage per student as compared to DCPS middle schools.

DCPS has also created guidelines for how much square footage should be built per student in future public schools, called the DC Standard for Modernization. At every grade level charter schools are currently occupying less space than these standards recommend for public schools, averaging between 19% and 24% fewer square feet per student.


DC Charters


Standard for Modernization


243 SF/student

114 SF/student


150 SF/student


436 SF/student

121 SF/student


170 SF/student


408 SF/student

155 SF/student


192 SF/student


256 SF/student

143 SF/student




270 SF/student

202 SF/student




It’s clear that charter school students are being forced to learn in too-small spaces. Meanwhile, more than 25 former DCPS school buildings sit empty – school buildings that are large and spacious, this study demonstrates – and charter schools do not have access to them.

Instead, charter schools are responsible for securing their own facilities, with schools currently utilizing a wide variety of facility types, everything from purpose-built new schools to leased commercial space to former DCPS school buildings. As a result, they are not able to secure the same amount of student space that DCPS is allotted.  Even the current modernization standards for DCPS require more square footage per student than the average charter facility currently utilizes, at every education level.

In order to ensure that charters continue to thrive, it is critical that schools have access to suitable facilities for classrooms, cafeterias, and other student spaces. 

Posted by: Scott Pearson at
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Thursday, May 02, 2013

Charter School Wait Lists Show Continued Need for High-Quality Schools

We have once again asked schools to share with us information about waitlists and available seats. We collect this information primarily so that we can share with parents which schools still have available spaces, and how high the odds are to clear the waitlist at schools that are full.

We are still validating this data, and expect to post detailed grade-by-grade waitlist and availability information for the 2013-2014 school year, for all schools, on Monday, May 6.

But what we can report now, is that our early data show that around 22,000 names are currently on the wait lists to get into charter schools of their choice. This is nearly 50% higher than the 15,000 names we reported last year. This is a depressingly high number that testifies to the continued strong demand for quality schools among DC families and the ongoing shortage of enough quality seats to meet parent demand.  More than half of all names on waitlists are at schools rated as “Tier 1” under our Performance Management Framework.

It also appears that there are approximately 1,000 slots still available at schools. Again, we will share specific information about where these slots are available on Monday.

Demand is high in nearly every ward.  Nearly every ward has more than 1,000 students on waitlists, with the exception of Ward 3 which has no charter schools. We are seeing the greatest demand for seats in the early grades – roughly 14,000 in PK3 through 1st grade, but parents are looking to enroll the children in a charter school at every grade level.

We know that parents are on wait lists at multiple schools, so our waitlist count undoubtedly includes duplicate names. This year we aren’t able to “dedupe” the names.  But next year, as we work to build a common lottery, we expect we will be able to report not only on the total number of names, but also how many individual students this represents.

The real tragedy behind these numbers is that many of our best schools want to grow to serve more children, but they are constrained by facilities.  Meanwhile, we count 25 empty school buildings that are either vacant or soon to be vacant. Quality charter schools need access to these buildings to serve the thousands of families currently on waitlists.

Posted by: Scott Pearson at
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