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DOE to unveil a “common application” for charter schools

Charter schools could soon have one single “common application,” under a deal hatched today by the three bodies that oversee the state’s charter schools, a Department of Education official confirmed.

Right now, families apply by filling out separate forms for each charter school that enter their children into separate lotteries. Under the new process, the city will create one common application, accepted by all schools, but keep lotteries separate.

The change will answer critics’ charge that the current process, with its overwhelming paperwork, is so complicated that it discourages all but the most motivated parents and effectively screens out needy students. The introduction of a common application does not address a second demand from critics, including the teachers union — that the lotteries also be streamlined.

Michael Duffy, the head of the city’s charter schools, said the city’s goal was “to widen the access for families” to charter schools. Duffy previously spearheaded a push to increase recruitment by charter schools, and said that the new common application should help charters reach out to groups of students, including those learning English, that charter recruiters often miss.

Duffy told me about the plans today by phone, just after a meeting with representatives from the State University of New York and Board of Regents charter authorizers, who Duffy said agreed to join the city in using the new application.

Their decision comes just after a group for charter school parents announced its own effort to streamline the admission process.

The New York Charter Parents Association plans to open a drop-in center for parents who want help researching schools, navigating the admissions process and sifting through paperwork.

“It’s true, it hasn’t been easy,” Mona Davids, head of the parents group, said. “It’s not easy, and it’s not as accessible as applying to a district school.”

Davids described the center, which she and a group of parents will run out of her organization’s DUMBO workspace, as a centralized location for parents to research charters and get help filling out applications.

The DOE is finalizing the details of its new application in the next few days, though Duffy said the DOE has been discussing the idea of a common application for a year and working intensively on it for the past three months. The department will soon begin distributing the universal application through outlets like the borough enrollment centers, the entrance points into the school system for many families often missed by charter recruitment, Duffy said.

This year, the city’s charter schools will retain their own applications, but the DOE is asking them also to accept any universal applications they receive. After a year’s test-run, Duffy said, the department will consider making the common application mandatory.

The plans come as charter schools have come under intense political attention as the state legislature debates whether to lift the cap on charter schools allowed in the state. The city teachers union, for example, cites what they characterize as an inequitable student admissions process as one reason the state should not yet raise the cap.

The union is pushing a plan that would legally require the city to centralize charter school admissions, using a uniform application and a lottery process managed by either the city or the state.

A spokesman for the union, Dick Riley, declined to comment on the new plans, except to say the union was looking at the proposals.