- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2002

Enrollment in D.C. charter schools has reached 11,500 this year, but administrators say more students would attend if more buildings were available.
Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, says charter school enrollment has increased by about 9 percent since 2001-2002. However, about 1,000 more students cannot attend the schools because the system has no more classrooms.
For example, he says Tri-Community Public Charter School in Northwest was supposed to accommodate 400 when it opened in September but has 22 students.
"We could not find a building, and we have other schools that want to expand but cannot," Mr. Cane said. "Although charter schools are growing rapidly, they are being kept artificially low due to the facilities problem."
The only other charter school to open this year was the Barbara Jordan Public Charter School for fifth- and sixth-graders, also in Northwest.
Mr. Cane says the situation exists throughout the District's 38 charter schools, including in one of the two Friendship-Edison Public Charter elementary schools, where about 500 students are on a waiting list.
Anna Varghese of the Center for Education Reform in Northwest, a national education advocacy group, agrees. She said the D.C. Council should allow charter schools the opportunity to use dark buildings in the District.
Still, experts disagree about whether the increase in charter school enrollment shows that D.C. public schools are failing.
Public school enrollment was once more than 77,000 students. Officials say enrollment in the 2002-2003 school year is 67,522, about 900 fewer students compared with last year.
"We are very excited to know that there is a deep well of desire in the District for better schooling. People are flocking to charter schools," Mr. Cane said.
But Steven Seleznow, D.C. public schools' chief of staff, sees the situation differently.
He says the public school system lost about 900 students last year but lost 1,200 the year before.
"If you look at the flow of students into charter schools over the last two years, I believe you will find a decline in the number of students choosing to go to charter schools," Mr. Seleznow said. "To me, that means more parents are choosing the District of Columbia public schools."
Mr. Seleznow also said many students return from charter schools to the public school system each year.
"Charter schools were created to make new models [in education] and to give parents choices," he said. "Our goal as an organization is to make District of Columbia public schools the first choice of parents. I think we are making progress. We want it to be a hard choice for parents because of the quality of education we offer."
Mrs. Varghese thinks the numbers show that more parents want the choices found in the charter school system.
"Folks in D.C. see the need for an alternative," she said. "Fifteen percent of students are enrolled in District charter schools, and that number goes up every year."
Mrs. Varghese also said the District's program is among the best in the country, so it's no surprise that enrollment has increased.
She says the program is scheduled to be featured in next month's issue of Charter School Laws Across the State.
"But if there's one thing that is negative, [its the lack] of facilities here and around the country," Mrs. Varghese said.


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