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Guest Blog: Charter School Waiting Lists in Texas

March 2, 2016

Last month, the Superintendent of Northside ISD took to the pages of the Houston Chronicle to launch a new attack on the parent demand for seats at public charter schools in Texas. In “Unfair Advantage Goes to Charter Schools,” Brian Woods creates an unclear picture of the situation, by misquoting the number of actual seats available to the 125,000 students on charter school waitlists.

Let’s stop playing numbers tricks with the public. The numbers that Mr. Woods quoted in his op-ed were not open seats; they are the state-approved capacity for each charter. They are the maximum number of students a public charter school is approved to serve, if they could snap their fingers today and have access to the facilities needed to serve so many children.

In a world like that, no student would be left waiting.

To turn that maximum capacity into available seats, the same dollars available to school districts should flow to the public charter schools. Equalizing the facilities funding would allow public charter schools with long waiting lists to grow with demand, and create enough seats to match their state-approved capacity. With no current funding for school facilities, public charter schools are forced to find the money needed to grow somewhere else in the budget – even taking money out of the classroom.

Everyone agrees that school finance is a complicated issue. However, there’s no clarity to be gained in comparing apples and oranges. Whatever the maximum capacity is set at, it’s not equivalent to the number of seats available for real parents, who are waiting today.

I founded Families Empowered to support the tens of thousands of families on charter school waitlists. Our mission is to help these parents navigate the marketplace of schools. After all, parents don’t care if the right school for their child is a traditional public school or public charter school or private school. We parents navigate all of their options, in-district and out-to find the best fit.

Families Empowered serves parents in Houston and San Antonio, where the waitlist totals a combined 19,882 families. There’s no number games here; these are households unique by physical address who waiting for a spot in at a KIPP, Harmony, YES Prep, or Great Hearts public charter school. We make our best effort to give clarity to complicated numbers by using a conservative metric.

However, this represents only a small portion of the public charter schools with long waitlists, in just two cities. All across Texas even more families are waiting.

Yes, some public charter schools have longer waiting lists than others. You can say the same thing about the highest performing magnet schools and the best school district campuses in wealthy areas. It’s no critique to point out that parents are seeking quality, and are navigating the system to find it. Simply put, the fact that the waiting list is not evenly spread across every public charter school in Texas does not eradicate the existence of long waitlists.

As Families Empowered’s Founder and Executive Director, I can tell you this: these are real parents, looking for quality educational opportunity for their children. These families are stuck on a list because the school they chose, a public charter school, does not have seats for their children.

Instead of playing games with numbers, we should come up with real solutions to address the needs of these families. To meet the demand, the State should provide equal facilities funding to all public schools. This will get children off the waitlists and into a school of their choice. It will help schools with high demand grow to meet these families’ needs, and allow public charter schools to keep their state funds intended for the classroom, in the classroom.

The views and opinions expressed in guest blog posts are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Texas Charter Schools Association.

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