In December 2019, Reaching Higher NH released an analysis on the number of open seats in 20 of the state’s 28 existing charter schools. The report, “Review of State’s Charter Schools Estimates 1,038 Open Seats in 2018-2019,” reviewed the maximum enrollment goals as stated on their authorization application materials, and compared them to the 2018-2019 student enrollment figures to calculate the maximum capacity of our state’s current charter schools.
The analysis has received considerable attention, from lawmakers, families, the public, and the charter schools themselves. In response to inquiries we received on Thursday, February 13, 2020, we are issuing this follow-on statement.
Our analysis explicitly focused on the maximum enrollment goals as stated on the authorization application materials for those charters schools as publicly available and approved by the NH State Board of Education (SBOE). This means that the figures included in that analysis were the maximum number of seats that the SBOE, as their authorizing body, approved for those schools.
Our analysis, which focused on the 2018-2019 school year, did not include any information about waiting lists, which was not publicly available prior to the DOE’s response to the Fiscal Committee for their meeting on December 13. Additionally, the DOE’s document submitted to the Fiscal Committee reflects the current school year; our analysis reflected the previous school year. Further, even as waiting list data has become publicly available since the publication of our analysis on December 5, 2019, there is significant variation in how waiting lists are built at different charter schools, which makes them unreliable for the purposes of comparison or further analysis. At least one charter school determines its waiting list based solely on the number of interested students who applied in the current school year, while at least one charter school reports the number of families who have applied to the school once, and keeps them on the list for multiple years.
Finally, in our analysis we noted that there are a number of reasons why charter schools may not meet their maximum enrollment goals, and instead may institute their own enrollment “caps.” The schools are not required to report their current cap, or the reasons for the cap. These reasons may include physical limitations like building space or staffing. Some administrators have noted, for example, that they have waiting lists because their capacity is limited due to lack of building space. Charter schools may lease space from existing public schools, commercial buildings, or other spaces. Charter schools may also purchase their own buildings. Charter school leaders have also noted that they must expand “responsibly,” and that there may be spots in some grades but waiting lists for others.
Reaching Higher NH is always open to questions of our analyses if/as new information is available. While we have reviewed the additional information shared with us, it has not changed our analysis.
Established in 2015, Reaching Higher is a nonpartisan 501c3 and has been deeply involved in supporting and expanding innovation and community-engagement in public education to improve outcomes for all NH students and families. Its mission is to provide all New Hampshire children with the opportunity to prepare for college, for immediate careers, and for the challenges and opportunities of life in 21st century NH, by serving as a public education policy and community engagement resource for New Hampshire families, educators, and elected officials.