Navigating the Public Charter School Lotteries

by February 21, 2013 at 1:00 pm 0

From Allison Acosta. Email her at allison[AT]


Tips on navigating the public charter school lottery system. (Allison Acosta)

More than 43 percent of all public school children in DC attend one of the 57 Public Charter Schools spread across the city on 102 campuses.

Charter schools are publicly funded and tuition-free schools that are open to all DC children. They are exempt from some of the rules, regulations, and statutes that apply to other public schools, but they must achieve certain results which are set forth in each school’s charter. The DC Public Charter School Board is responsible for oversight of the charter schools.

Each charter school has its own application and lottery process. This year, for the first time, most DCPCS will have an application deadline of March 15, run their lotteries on March 22 and have a deadline of April 22 for parents to accept a spot before the schools move on to their wait lists.

Unlike the DC Public School lottery, in which parents must narrow their choices down to six options and in which preference is given for living in close proximity to the school, parents can apply to as many DCPCS as they wish and have an equal chance to anyone else in the city.

Most, if not all, charter schools give a preference to siblings of children already at the school. There are a handful of schools that fill spots in their classrooms in the order that applications were submitted, but most schools accept applications until a certain date and then hold a lottery.

For many schools, applying is as easy as entering name, date of birth and address information on a website, but some schools require you to apply in-person or fax in your application.

With so many charter schools in the city, deciding which schools to focus on can be daunting. Word of mouth is a great way to begin gathering information about schools. Ask your friends and neighbors what they like and dislike about the schools their children attend.

On the Charter School Board’s website, you can search for schools by location and name and view demographic information, a description of each school, and a detailed “School Performance Scorecard.” The Charter school board ranks schools into three tiers, with Tier 3 schools being underperforming.

The new website, Apply DC Charters, has basic information about the 85 schools participating in the March 15 application deadline, including upcoming open house dates. You can search the website by location, grade levels, and programs, such as arts-integration or interscholastic sports.

The website GreatSchools also has school profiles for DCPS, public charter schools, and private schools. GreatSchools has a ranking system that is currently based on test scores for Grades 3 and higher, and academic growth from year to year, so if you are researching a newer school there may be no ranking or limited data behind the ranking. On the GreatSchools website, you can also sort schools by their “specialty,” such as a dual-language curriculum or a Montessori program.

There are several public charter schools within the Borderstan area. Below is a list of DCPCS serving pre-school and elementary school aged students in Borderstan, along with the dates of upcoming Open Houses.

Both DCPS and DCPCS will complete their lotteries by the end of March. With large numbers of parents entering the lottery for six DCPS and any number of charter schools, expect wait lists to move significantly over the summer and into the beginning of the 2013-14 school year.

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