April 12, 2017

Lottery Helps Charter School Answer Critics

Amidst legal challenges and widespread conflict over expansion plans, the Princeton Charter School (PCS) is moving forward with a record number of applicants for admission and a weighted lottery that is expanding its population of economically-disadvantaged students.

According to Head of School Larry Patton, 320 students entered the lottery for 96 available places, a 25 percent rise in the number of Princeton students registering for the lottery. Nine of the available seats were awarded to economically-disadvantaged students.  

Last year 260 Princeton students registered for the lottery, and over the past five years there has been an average of 262 per year. An additional 91 out-of-district students applied for admission to PCS this year.

“This enthusiastic response is a clear indication of parental demand and support for the outstanding educational opportunities PCS offers to Princeton children,” Mr. Patton said.  “We received applicants from all across Princeton, and our new weighted lottery system and extensive outreach efforts worked to improve diversity at PCS.”

The PCS plan to add 76 more students was approved by the New Jersey Acting Commissioner of Education on March 1, but the Princeton Public Schools (PPS) have filed an appeal of the decision, and both PCS and PPS face law suits over alleged violations the open public meeting act [The Sunshine Law].

Criticism of the PCS expansion has focused on both the “devastating” financial impact on the district and the hasty, undemocratic application process, according to PPS Superintendent Steve Cochrane, as well as the relative lack of diversity in the PCS student population.  Princeton Town Council also approved a resolution in opposition to the proposed expansion.

In its outreach efforts PCS delivered admissions materials and lottery registration forms to local nursery schools and housing developments with new and/or affordable housing units; advertised in local media; held two open houses at PCS; held eight information sessions throughout the community, with Spanish speakers in attendance at most of these meetings and information and applications distributed in English and Spanish; posted flyers around town; created a Facebook campaign with ads in English and Spanish; and reached out to community leaders for support and ideas.

“We will continue to work to expand our connections with organizations that can help make us a known choice for families with school-aged children in Princeton,” Mr. Patton said. He further pointed out that the successful lottery “validates our multi-pronged strategy for increasing our economic diversity by moving our primary entry grade to kindergarten, expanding the number of seats K-2, and weighting our lottery.”

He added, “Half of all income-eligible students received a seat and the remaining families are on the wait list for any additional seats that become available between now and September.”

Additional seats often become available for wait-listed applicants when families decide to move out to town over the spring or summer.

Neither PPS nor PCS reported any updates on the status of the pending court cases or further discussions and negotiations between the two schools.