D.C. charter schools: 15,000 on waiting lists

WASHINGTON (AP) - About 15,000 names are on waiting lists for the District of Columbia's charter schools, and more than 700 slots remain available at some schools.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board has compiled self-reported data from the city's 98 charter school campuses.

One school, E.L. Haynes Public Charter School, has nearly 3,000 students waiting to enroll.

"We started at 138 students Pre-K through second grade, and now next year, we'll have 950 through 10th grade," said Haynes' founder Jennifer Niles.

Niles started the school in 2004.

Today, the Kansas Avenue campus has a new wing under construction for the addition of high school grade levels.

Even still, space is limited.

Niles said, " It's painful to think of all of the families that don't have a school or they haven't found that right school, so it's with a little bit of mixed emotion."

Kipp D.C., Capital City and Two Rivers are also attractive charter school programs to parents. They each have hundreds of students on their waiting lists.

Naomi Deveaux, who is on the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said, "You can find programs for language specific, you can find programs that are geared for college and these are really important. They emphasis small class sizes, different learning styles."

The board says it's collecting and releasing this information to be transparent with parents.

Board members might also use the data when approving future charters.

"You can think about replicating those schools offering more or similar programs that offer these schools so parents can get into more schools that they want to get into," Deveaux explained.

But if programs like E.L. Haynes are working, why not expand or open more campuses to accommodate these wait listed students.

Niles said a better solution is to preserve the program she created while helping other existing schools succeed. To do so, she is hosting workshops, sharing best practices with educators from across the District, both charter schools and D.C. Public Schools.

"Instead of starting more EL Haynes charter schools, having these different systemic reform efforts we think can move the needle across the city in a different way than replicating ourselves," Niles added.

The waiting list of 15,000 announced this week represents about half the 33,700 students already enrolled in public charter schools for the fall.

Charter school board Executive Director Scott Pearson says the numbers show D.C. families' demand for quality school options.

For the first time, the charter school board is posting information about waiting lists online with available openings by school and grade.

The lists will be updated in July and August.