Extensive waitlists heat up charter school debate

A report released last Thursday has spurred a call to raise the cap on charter school enrollment.

Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School. — MV Times file photo

There are 32,646 Massachusetts students on waitlists for admission to charter schools, according to figures released last Thursday by the Department for Elementary and Secondary Education.

The department’s report, based on March data, shows that 74 of the state’s 78 charter schools have waiting lists of students who applied for seats but did not gain admittance. Most of the students — 27,089 — were on waitlists for just one school, while the remaining 5,557 appeared on more than one waitlist, the State House News Service reported.

An initiative petition likely to appear on November’s ballot will ask voters whether to raise the cap on charter school enrollment in Massachusetts, which could allow new charters to be issued or existing schools to expand, according to the State House News Service.

“Today’s announcement that nearly 33,000 students remain trapped on waiting lists for public charter schools reaffirms the massive demand from families for these great public schools — and how vital it is that we lift the cap immediately to give all families access to the public school of their choice,” Eileen O’Connor, spokesman for Great Schools Massachusetts, said in a statement.

Advocates for traditional public schools have pushed back on the expansion of charter schools, calling for education reforms that would improve the quality of education in the K-12 public school system, according to the State House.

Those schools with the largest waitlists were Mystic Valley Regional Charter School, with 3,643 students; SABIS International Charter School, with 2,775 students; and Foxborough Regional Charter School, with 2,575 students, according to the report from the Department for Elementary and Secondary Education.

Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School director Bob Moore said there are 30 students on the school’s waitlist.

In a phone interview with The Times on Friday, Mr. Moore said that the state closely scrutinizes charter schools, which he believes is a good thing because it makes them strong institutions.

“If their numbers bear the need for a public school option in the name of charter schools, I think it should be considered,” Mr. Moore said.

There are nearly 80 charters schools in Massachusetts. Mr. Moore said he believed that is a good number in terms of the support and evaluation that the schools need in order to ensure the quality of education.