Atlanta, May 7, 2014 — For families seeking public school alternatives, charter schools are a hoped-for option in Georgia. But while interest in charters is high, the supply of actual charter school seats is not meeting the demand.
For 2012-13, the Georgia Department of Education reported a 6.7% increase in the number of charter schools holding lotteries over the previous year. Ten charter schools opened with waiting lists of more than 500 students. The average waitlist at Georgia charter schools was 172 students, with start-up schools averaging 232 students and conversion schools 82 students.
Waiting lists also included students wishing to enroll in Georgia’s virtual or online charter schools.
Georgia’s wait list statistics parallel national trends. A new report out this week from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools indicates that nationally, the number of names on public charter schools’ waiting lists rose by 13 percent in the 2013-2014 school year. According to Nina Rees, the Alliance’s president and CEO, 1.04 million student names were on waiting lists, compared with 920,007 the previous year. It was the first time the number of names on the list had exceeded one million, Rees said.
So what happens in Georgia when 780 seats are available in a public charter school but more than 1,300 students apply? By law, the charter school must hold an admissions lottery, open to the public, with names drawn at random.
At charter schools with a long track record of academic success, parents are resigned to the fact that a waiting list may be inevitable.
Oglethorpe Charter School in Savannah reported 385 on their waiting list; Brighten Academy, the 2014 Charter School of the Year, has 480 on its waiting list, Kennesaw Charter Science and Math Academy, has 380 on the waiting list, and at The Museum School of Avondale Estates, nearly 500 are on the waiting list.
“These established waiting lists are for existing charter schools,” said Tony Roberts, President and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association (GCSA). “We have no way of knowing how many parents would want to send their children to charter schools in areas where there are currently no charter schools.”
But even charter schools that have not yet opened their doors, held admissions lotteries this spring. It happened at The Academy for Classical Education, a brand new charter school in Bibb County, set to open in August, 2014. “We are a K-8 school that has enrolled 780 students, but our post-lottery waiting list, with no guarantee of enrollment, now stands at 560,” said Estorine Stokes, co-founder of the school.
And though waiting lists do fluctuate through the summer, most applicants won’t find out until the early days of school if an opening has developed because someone has moved or changed their mind.
AJC columnist Kyle Wingfield recently shared his lottery story about trying to get his pre-schooler into a brand new Atlanta charter school saying, “We are very high on the wait list. If just a few families make a different choice about their kids’ schooling, we’ll get our choice.”
The Georgia Charter Schools Association is trying to change the equation so that more charter seats become available.
“Across Georgia, the number of students on the waiting lists of public charter schools grows with each passing year. In many cases, the waiting list for a charter school is larger than the entire student population of the charter,” Tony Roberts said. “Communities across the state are hungry to launch more high quality charter schools or expand existing ones. Unfortunately, for far too many children, these hopes are not being realized fast enough. We must do more to help the children on these waiting lists find the best educational environment possible.”