Boston charter schools — taking a page from the college admissions world — plan to launch an online common application Tuesday to make it easier for families to apply.
The new application will replace a wide variety of individual applications the schools used that families often would spend hours completing, depending on the number of schools to which they were applying.
“This will be great for families,” said Shannah Varon, executive director of Boston Collegiate Charter School, adding that the online application “streamlines information for families and makes it easier for families to understand where there are seats across the charter sector.”
Currently, families must do their own research to find out what grade levels charter schools serve. But the common application will automatically provide that list to parents after they indicate which levels they are seeking.
For families who lack Internet access, a paper version will be made available at most schools. Tuesday marks the opening of the new admissions cycle for charter schools, enabling families to submit applications for the 2017-2018 school year. Admission lotteries will be in March.
The new application is being rolled out after a controversial effort earlier this year to unify the enrollment systems for Boston’s charter and district schools suffered a setback in the Legislature.
Lawmakers failed to change state law so charter schools could adopt the Boston school system’s student-assignment policies. Charter schools are required, under state law, to enroll students citywide, while the Boston school system limits student enrollment in most cases to geographic areas.
Representatives for the charter schools, the BPS, and City Hall say they remain committed to creating a unified-enrollment system and hope to have a full proposal in 2017. Beyond legislative changes, the charters and the school system have been working through other unspecified issues.
But any resulting proposal is expected to encounter fierce resistance from many Boston Public School parents who fear a unified enrollment system could give charter schools a competitive edge in student recruitment. Already, tensions are running high in the city as voters contemplate a Nov. 8 ballot measure that would accelerate the opening of charter schools statewide.
In the meantime, charter school leaders decided to move forward with a common application for their schools, an idea they had been kicking around for a few years.
The need for change, they said, became clear in January after the charters set up information booths at Dorchester Collegiate Charter School, a day after the state voted to shut it down. Charter staffs watched as families spent hours moving from one booth to another, filling out applications that requested mostly the same information as they agonized over their children’s future.
Under the new system, families will be able to apply to multiple charter schools simultaneously in about five minutes, using a computer, tablet, or smartphone.
The applications will be offered in nine different languages, and families will receive an automated e-mail afterward confirming which schools have received the applications. The deadline to apply is Feb. 28.
Varon warns, though, that because the common application is new there might be some initial bumps.
Charters in other cities that have created common applications and have seen their application numbers climb.
In New York City, about 200 charter schools received 134,000 applications last year, up 21 percent from the previous year, according to SchoolMint, a California-based company that developed the online platform used in New York and other cities, including Boston.
Chief executive Jinal Jhaveri cofounded the company after going through the tedious process of applying to charter schools on paper applications in Oakland, saying, “It was a huge hassle.”
The platform also offers other features for school administrators, enabling them to see from which parts of a city the applications are coming and where they might need to target their recruiting efforts to boost numbers before the deadline.
Almost all of Boston’s independently run charter schools as well as Phoenix Academy Chater School in Chelsea plan to use the common application. The one exception is Bridge Boston, a small charter school in Dorchester that recruits disadvantaged students through homeless organizations, child welfare programs, and other similar organizations.
Yully Cha, the school’s executive director, said she was concerned the common application could flood the school with applicants and prevent the most disadvantaged students from gaining admission.
“We are pretty careful and methodical about our recruitment strategies,” she said.