Unfortunate School Choice Timing

Headache!  Private schools generally require a tuition deposit around March 1.  Voluntary Transfer Program (VTP) notifications are generally made in late spring.  Charter schools have their lotteries at all different times, from December through April.

I was contemplating a post the complexity of timing for families choosing a school, and the challenge of making a choice without knowing all of your options.  For parents choosing between public schools in your catchment or via the VTP, charter, and/or private school options, it is a real problem.  Reading my mind, two parents on the Mount Airy Parents Network email list summed it up pretty well.  Here’s their exchange, edited and reprinted with their permission.  If you are considering the Voluntary Transfer Program, be sure to read A Primer on Transfers in the School District of Philadelphia.

Question (from A.W.):

With deposits due for private school options [early March, in general-Len], wait lists on lotteries for charter schools, and voluntary transfers within the neighborhood public schools, we are having concerns with the timing of it all.  When do families find out if their child will be able to attend a school outside their catchment?  I know that the PSD has their lottery list, and also that some principals have some leverage here (their own list). When?

If your child is wait listed for a charter school, when do you find if a slot opens up?

It’s one thing to put down a deposit, but the private schools can hold you responsible for a full year’s tuition after a set date.

Any suggestions or tales on this subject are welcome.

Answer (from J.C.):

For Kindergarten at charter schools, families who are offered spots have a certain amount of time to complete registration paperwork and if they don’t, the spot is then offered to the next one on the waiting list. This means that it could be April if you are at the very top of the waiting list. Once they fill their class, there isn’t any movement unless someone pulls out – sometimes at the last minute. Which really means that you could get a call in August saying there is a spot. For Kindergarten, my daughter was 5th on the waiting list at Green Woods so we were hopeful. I think I called in June (2009) and was told that they had taken the first two kids off the waiting list and that if anyone backed out over the summer they knew that the 3rd child on the list still wanted the spot.  That finally gave us the definitive answer that she wasn’t getting in – in June. (We sent her to Houston, our catchment school, for Kindergarten and reapplied to Green Woods for 1st grade where she was drawn first on the list and got in.)

I know it’s not really helpful, but my answer is that it could be really late that a spot opens up but you can at least get an idea earlier on if there’s even a chance by how far down the list you are. I know Wissahickon, Green Woods, and Independence give you your number. Most schools will give you a general idea of how many kids off of the waiting list, on average, get in.

Follow-up to me (from A.W.)

The timing of acceptances is definitely an issue.  Although the online response has been limited, parents I have spoken to seem to struggle with this aspect as well.   I had one person email me directly, and she let me know that some private schools offer tuition insurance.  If the school that we have put a deposit down for offered this we would then not worry if in August we found out he got into a neighborhood school outside of our catchment or off a charter school wait list.  In our situation this wasn’t an option.


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