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Applications Double for Boston Charter Schools Under New Enrollment System

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Boston charter schools this year received more than double the number of applications than last year under a new online enrollment system that allows parents to apply to multiple schools at once.

A total of 35,000 applications were submitted for the upcoming school year—up from about 13,000 last year—for 25 charter campuses, according to the Massachusetts Public Charter School Association, which oversees the online system.

Those applications came from about 9,200 students, most of whom are applying to three or four schools each for the 2017-18 school year.

The spike in applications likely will decrease children's chances for coveted spaces: Only about 2,100 spots are available in those charters. Many families will find out if their children will be enrolled when the city's charters hold lotteries on Wednesday. 

The Boston charter application numbers were released four months after Massachusetts voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot measure that would have lifted the cap on the state's charter schools and created more charter seats.

"These numbers show a continued high demand for charter schools that has increased since the ballot question," said Marc Kenen, the association's executive director, to Education Week. "So, we think this demonstrates that there's still a need for more charter schools in Massachusetts."

Denen believes the publicity surrounding the ballot measure helped spark interest in charter schools, resulting in more requests. Plus, the new enrollment system made it easier for parents to try for more charter schools.

Under the new system, parents submitted a single application online and checked boxes for the charter schools where they wish to enroll their children. Previously, parents had to submit individual online or paper applications for each school.

How common are single-enrollment systems in districts with lots of school choice?

Boston's new system comes as cities across the country are trying to make it simpler for parents to apply to multiple schools at the same time.

Already, Denver, the District of Columbia, Newark, N.J., and New Orleans have single-enrollment systems where parents can apply to both charter and district schools. The idea, too, has been discussed in Boston, but so far only charter schools are running their own system.

In Oakland, Calif., parents soon will be able to use the same online platform to select schools, but the applications will be different for district and charter campuses under the Oakland School Finder.

A new enrollment tool in Detroit, a joint effort by charters and the district, has been shelved as 25 Detroit schools face possible closures, according to a Feb. 16 story by Erin Einhorn in Chalkbeat Detroit.

Boston's new charter application system is operated by SchoolMint, an enrollment platform that has worked with more than 3,000 schools worldwide since starting in 2013, according to its website. For its New York charter system last year, about 134,000 applications were submitted for 200 charters, up 21 percent increase from the previous year, according to the association's press release.

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