Wait lists growing for Georgia charter schools

jmink@macon.comMay 12, 2014 

AceAcademy

Jamie Alonzo, with True North Construction Group, cuts a piece of steel framing at the future Academy for Classical Education in Macon.

JASON VORHEES — jvorhees@macon.com Buy Photo

As the school year comes to an end, students and parents begin contemplating next school year and the changes they will face.

For a growing number of them, that means attending a new charter school -- or waiting to.

Across the state, waiting lists for charter schools are growing significantly. It’s an issue that is both positive and negative, charter school officials say.

And as Bibb County’s first charter school plans to open its doors in August, it will do so with a lengthy waiting list.

According to the most recent data, there has been a 6.7 percent increase in the number of Georgia charter schools that hold lotteries. When a charter school receives more applications than open slots, it must draw student names at random. Those names that are not drawn are put on a waiting list. Nationally, the number of names on such waiting lists increased by 13 percent this school year, according to the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

In Macon, the Academy for Classical Education is scheduled to open Aug. 4 with 760 students in kindergarten through eighth grade -- and about 540 on a waiting list. It’s a much lengthier wait list than school officials had anticipated, co-founder Esterine Stokes said.

“Parents are e-mailing us every day asking, ‘When is my child going to move off the wait list?’” she said.

Students were chosen by a lottery, and those who did not make the cut were put on a waiting list based on their grade. Each grade level has a separate waiting list. The longest one is for sixth grade, which has 130 names.

School officials will take students off the waiting list as slots become available. Officials expect some enrolled students to move or decide to attend a different school, but it is unclear how long students will remain waiting, Stokes said.

“There could be some more (open slots) before school starts, ... but we have no way of knowing that,” she said.

The waiting list for the Academy for Classical Education is typical for a Georgia charter school, said Nina Rubin, communications director for the Georgia Charter Schools Association.

When the waiting lists are long for schools that are new and haven’t yet proven themselves, such as the Academy for Classical Education, it shows the high demand for charter schools, she said.

At the same time, long waiting lists can discourage parents from pursuing a charter school education. The association promotes more charter school openings to meet that need, Rubin said.

“It’s very distressing when charter schools become associated with waiting lists because it discourages people from even applying,” she said. “At the same time, it proves the demand and the need for more public school options, more charter options across the state.”

To contact writer Jenna Mink, call 256-9751.

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