Harlem Charter Lottery Requires A 'Click' Of Faith
April is lottery month for the city's 126 charter schools. And while tens of thousands entered this year's lotteries, politicians are arguing whether to raise the cap on the number of charters in the state. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.
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For a four-year-old and his parents, charter school lotteries can be devastating or thrilling. But with as many as 48,000 students applying for less than 12,000 seats in the city's 126 charter schools, most walk away disappointed.
"I am just hoping and praying for my two sons to get picked in the lottery," said one parent.
Charter schools are required to hold random lotteries to fill their seats and many choose to make them public events, with music, balloons and plenty of emotional moments.
Former City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz has been known to host the most high profile lotteries, but as she's become the face of controversy over the charter school movement, this year the lottery for the seven schools she'll operate in Harlem and the South Bronx next fall was small and silent. With a click of a mouse, thousands of applicants were sorted through a computer and either accepted or waitlisted.
"The spots are randomly assigned by a computer. Now this used to be done, and in fact in our first lottery, we had a box and we pulled out names. I was one of the people up there pulling out names and so forth. It's gotten very, very complicated with 7,000 applicants and in our case we have seven schools," Moskowitz said.
But the decision to make a lottery a big public affair or a small, quiet procedure is often political. While charters have been a lightning rod since they first opened 10 years ago, they're in the limelight now more than ever. There are almost 200 charters, the maximum under current state law. Critics charge they're unregulated, take space from public schools and undercut the teachers union. But charter advocates are lobbying hard to abolish the cap, and they point to the lotteries as proof parents are voting with their feet.
"I am happy for the people whose kids got into the school but there's not enough space," said one parent. "Everybody wants their child to have the opportunity for a better environment, better quality teachers. It's like they've got to make more room for other kids."
With the deadline looming for federal grant applications based partly on whether the state raises the charter cap, the debate will likely heat up over the next few weeks.