About those Florida charter school waiting lists

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A recent report by a charter school advocacy group found there are more than 24,000 students on charter school waiting lists in Miami-Dade County.

The numbers are based on information kept by the Florida Department of Education, which asks charter schools the number of applications they receive, the number of students they accept and the number of children on their waiting lists. The third number is often, but not always, the difference between the first two.

See the full spreadsheet of statewide waiting list data here.

There are several caveats with these numbers. For one thing, they are reported by individual schools, so they may include duplicates. If one student tried to get into three different schools, but didn’t win any lotteries, that student might appear on three different waiting lists.

After excluding a few schools that report five-digit waiting list numbers that seem out of whack with the number of applications they received, the numbers suggest there are more than 86,000 students on charter school waiting lists throughout Florida. But that number, given the complications of information reported by schools and the potential for duplicates, may be less instructive than the broader point it reinforces: All over the state, there are parents who want access to new school options.

It’s also worth looking at the variation across schools. The numbers show the troubled Acclaim Academy‘s waiting lists at its Duval and Osceola County schools shrank to zero after they received F’s from the state. Meanwhile, some schools with strong academic reputations, like the Bay Haven charter network in Bay County, consistently report waiting lists with hundreds of students.

All of this suggests the talk about reining in unqualified schools should be combined with efforts to meet the demand of thousands of parents who are clearly looking for something different. It’s instructive to read about the parents and students who were drawn to Acclaim’s schools in the first place.

The Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools has planks in its legislative platform that address both stopping bad schools and helping good ones grow to meet the demand, especially in high-needs areas. Greg Richmond, of the National Association for Charter School Authorizers, has thoughts on those twin efforts here.