Charter waitlist data may be flawed, auditor says

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BOSTON – In the latest chapter of an ongoing debate around the number of Massachusetts students waiting for charter school seats, Auditor Suzanne Bump on Friday released an analysis finding that an updated waitlist could still lack accuracy.

On Feb. 18, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education announced that 34,000 children were on waitlists for seats in charter schools across the state, an update to an initial report indicating a 37,000-name list.

In a 2014 audit, Bump found charter school waiting list numbers were “significantly overstated.” The education department, in releasing its new waitlist numbers, noted “significant and continuing improvement efforts” in quantifying the number of students waiting for seats.

The size of the waitlist has become a flashpoint in the broader debate over whether Massachusetts should increase the maximum number of charter schools it authorizes.

“Our analysis found that, while some progress has been made, significant issues with data collection and rollover wait lists remain,” Bump said in a statement. “If this discussion is to be based on facts, rather than philosophy, these issues must be further addressed.”

According to the education department, around 75 percent of charter schools did not roll over old waitlists for this school year. Bump wrote that education officials have not identified which schools do roll over names and said there is “considerable” probability that rollovers inflate the total waitlist number.

Forty-five charter schools reporting waitlists have been operating below their maximum authorized capacity, Bump said, which “theoretically” means the list could be reduced.

Written by Katie Lannan