Charter Schools have Huge Waiting Lists

Charter Schools have Huge Waiting Lists

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PROVO, Utah (AP) -- Hundreds of parents are waiting for enrollment openings at Utah County's three charter schools. For many, the wait is nearly hopeless due to the large number of applicants.

The John Hancock Charter School in Pleasant Grove has a waiting list of close to 500, said Julie Adamic, who founded the school with her husband, David.

Timpanogos Academy, a charter school in Lindon, has about 700 students on its waiting list, said Eric Smith, the school's chief administrative officer.

Freedom Academy, a charter school serving kindergarten through sixth grades that opened last September in Provo, has about 25 students on its waiting list, but is accepting applications only from those who intend to enroll their children during the current school year, said the academy's founder Andrea Perri. If the school were taking names for next year, she estimated the list would have 150 to 200 names.

Discovery Junior High, a charter school planning to open in the Provo area next fall, already has about 45 applications for 80 spaces, said Diana West, the school's director. "We get kind of a slow, steady stream of applications even though we're not advertising yet," West said.

The 18 charter schools in Utah have a combined waiting list of 1,796 students, according to a poll of the schools conducted by Education Excellence Utah, a think tank based in South Jordan that promotes parental choice in education.

M. Royce Van Tassell, executive director of Education Excellence Utah, said 3,445 students are attending the schools, which operate much like private schools but use state funding and abide by state rules.

Charter schools conduct an open enrollment period and pick students through a lottery. However, state law allows the schools to give preference to the siblings of students already enrolled.

Smith said that out of the 50 new seats open for kindergartners for the 2003-04 year, 43 were taken by siblings. Timpanogos Academy instructs students in kindergarten through sixth grade and has 375 students.

"Generally, people have quit even bothering to sign up," Smith said.

Representatives of Timpanogos, John Hancock and Freedom said their schools offer a "back to basics" education. Smith said he believes this is one of the reasons why parents want to enroll their children in charter schools.

John Hancock has 184 students in kindergarten through eighth grade, restricting itself to one class per grade and about 20 students per class in order to remain a small, community school, Adamic said.

Smith said some of the applications for enrollment in the charter schools is linked to Investigations, a controversial method of teaching mathematics used in Alpine School District elementary schools.

"There's definitely huge backlash against Investigations Math," Smith said. "I can't even say the number of people that have shown up on our waiting list because of that."

The school districts are affected financially when students leave to attend a charter school and the tax dollars leave with them.

Alpine district spokeswoman Jerrilyn Mortensen said the loss is hard to assess because charter schools pull a few students from one school and a few from another. The costs to run those schools remain the same even though the district overall has lost students and therefore revenue, Mortensen said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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