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Information for Families

charter school (chär′tər skōōl), noun.

A tuition-free, autonomous, public school, that is given the freedom to be innovative in exchange for increased accountability for student achievement. Today there are 52 charter schools on over 90 campuses.


Unlike traditional public schools, which are bound by school system rules and processes, charter schools are autonomous from the school system central office and have total control over their budget, personnel and curriculum. Charter leaders can make quick, effective changes to improve student performance, like modifying the curriculum or replacing ineffective teachers. At the same time, charter schools are subject to increased accountability for demonstrating improved student achievement, and will lose their right to operate if they fail to show results in a reasonable period of time.


Public charter schools do not charge tuition, do not have entrance requirements, and welcome all DC-resident students to apply. If more students apply to a charter school than there are seats available, the school holds a public lottery to choose which students will be admitted. The public charter schools in Washington, DC each have their own enrollment and application procedures and deadlines. Use this question and answer guide to give you an overview of how charter school enrollment works. To find a school near you check out our school quality dashboard.





Who can attend?

Enrollment is open to all students who are DC residents. Charter public schools may not limit enrollment based on student's race, color, religion, national origin, language spoken, intellectual or athletic ability.

How old does my child have to be to start school?

Each charter school can set its own age cut-off date for enrollment up to Dec 31st. Most follow the DCPS guidelines, but contact the school to be sure. Effective fall 2007, the DCPS guidelines state that children must have a birthday no later than the dates below to enroll:

• Pre-kindergarten, age 4 by Sep 30

• Kindergarten, age 5 by Sep 30

• First grade, age 6 by Dec 31

Do the schools charge tuition?

DC residents attend free of charge. If space is available, non-resident students may enroll in a charter school but they pay tuition at the rate established by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education.

What paperwork do I need to enroll?

Parents must show these three items to enroll a student:

1. Proof of your child's birth date

2. Legal proof of DC residency

3. Your child's immunization records

No charter schools may have any special admissions criteria or application process.

Must my child enroll in the school in our neighborhood?

No. Unlike traditional public schools, students are not assigned to a charter school based on neighborhood boundaries. A student may enroll in a charter school in any part of the city if there is space available.

When is the application deadline?

Each charter school sets its own deadlines, and many occur in the spring. Contact each school to find out dates for open houses, enrollment deadlines, and the lottery. Returning students must also complete a re-enrollment form by a certain date.

How are students selected?

Charter schools cannot have any special admissions requirements or selection process. If the school receives more applications than it has seats, the school uses a lottery system to randomly select students.

Do schools have a waiting


Yes. Applications that were submitted but not selected during the lottery are numbered and identified by grade and put on a waiting list. As spaces become available, they are offered to those on the list. A waiting list is only valid for one school year. Schools must hold a new lottery each school year and start a new waiting list.

I would like all my children

to go to the same school.

Schools may grant an enrollment preference to siblings of current students. If a parent submits applications for siblings within the enrollment period, if one sibling is chosen in the lottery, the other siblings may be enrolled as long as slots are available in the siblings' grade levels.


Great Schools Chooser-English (PDF)


Great Schools Chooser-Spanish (PDF)