Demand for Quality Public Charter Schools Continues to Rise

The number of children on Washington DC charter school waitlists grew last year, as it has every year since the launch of the My School DC common lottery in 2014. Indeed, growth in charter school waitlists is accelerating as more and more families seek to enroll their children in public charter schools each year. Detailed waitlist data by school and grade may be found here.

Number of Individual Students on Charter School Waitlists

There are 11,317 individual students on the common lottery waitlists to attend one or more PK-12 public charter schools in 2018-19[1]. That means nearly one out of every eight public school students in DC wishes to enroll in a charter school that has no room.

The number of individual students on the common lottery waitlists grew at the fastest rate in three years:

Lottery Individual Students on Waitlists Change from Previous Year Percentage Change from Previous Year
April 2018 11,317 +1,614 +17%
April 2017 9,703 +1,063 +12%
April 2016 8,640 +114 +1%
April 2015 8,526 +1,321 +18%
April 2014 7,205 N/A  

[1] Includes only PK-12 DC Public Charter Schools that participate in the My School DC Common Lottery

Total Names on Charter School Waitlists

An individual student may be on more than one waitlist. For example, if a child is admitted to her fourth-choice school, she is placed on the waitlists for the three schools she ranked higher. According to DC PCSB staff analysis, the total number of names on waitlists across all PK-12 charter schools totaled 28,698[2], up 22% from the previous year. As shown in the table below, the growth in the length of charter school waitlists is accelerating each year.

Lottery Total Length of Waitlists Change from Previous Year Percentage Change from Previous Year
April 2018 28,698 (updated from 28,298) +4,850 +22% (updated from 21%)
April 2017 23,448 +2,568 +12%
April 2016 20,880 +2,002 +11%
April 2015 18,878 +422 +2%
April 2014 18,456 N/A  

The Demand

  • The greatest demand continues to be in grades pre-kindergarten (ages 3 and 4) and kindergarten, with waitlists across public charter schools totaling 13,592 (updated from 13,611), an increase of 1,449 (updated from 1,468) over last year. Since many students are on multiple waiting lists, the total represents an unknown number of duplicates.
  • Roughly 67% (updated from 66%) of applicants on waitlists are waiting for a spot at a Tier One public charter school.
  • This year, 65% of public charter schools[3] have longer waitlists than they did at this time last year.

[2] Includes DC Public Charter Schools serving grades PK3 - 12.
[3] Excludes alternative schools and schools that did not participate in the 2017 lottery.

Information

  • Waitlist results can be filtered by grade and campus.
  • The SY18-19 waitlist data includes families who applied to the lottery by the PK-8 deadline of March 1, 2018 and high school deadline of February 1, 2018. 
  • For the most current information on waitlist lengths, please contact schools directly.
  • My School DC will be posting the number of open seats available in May.

Implications

While public charter schools have been adding about 2,000 new seats per year, it is clear that demand for these schools, on the whole, outstrips supply. Behind the numbers are countless families who are frustrated that they were not accepted in their school of choice. Some of these families will choose to leave the District, which is an outcome nobody wants.

Many of the most in-demand schools wish to grow but cannot due to lack of facilities. Meanwhile, the city sits on a dozen vacant school buildings, refusing to release them for political reasons.

There are several Tier One schools with few or no students on their waitlists, and DC PCSB has created a list of these schools to help families find a good school for their child.

The size of waitlists is one way to help assess where demand is greatest and is a valuable tool in planning for future school growth. This information will be useful in the upcoming cross-sector planning sessions called for by the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force.

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