DC Public School (DCPS)

So. You moved here from Maryland or Virginia because you heard there’s “Free Pre-K” here.” Or you moved from somewhere else in the world and you heard there’s this thing called a “school lottery” and you have absolutely no idea what that means.

I know. I didn’t understand it either.

Here are the main things you should know first:

1) Your child is not guaranteed a seat in public school anywhere in the city until Kindergarten.

2) Your child is always guaranteed a seat in public school from grades K – 12, at your in-boundary assigned school.

I know Rules 1 and 2 seem perfectly logical and you’re wondering why I’m evening bringing this up. People get stumped on this “DC has free Pre-K” thing and and they’ve sold their house in Maryland or Virginia, moved to DC, dropped their kid at the front door of the neighborhood school on day 1 and peeled out of the front circle.

In DC, your school options are public schools, public charter schools, as well as community based organizations that offer Pre-K.

Start by going to enrolldcps.dc.gov to find your in-boundary school. If this url changes because that tends to happen a lot with DC’s websites that they link to a vortex of 404 errors, you can always google dc school boundaries.

If you have a child in K-12 and you are going to send them to your in-bound school. Great. You’re done here. Get them enrolled and you’re set.

Anyone who wants to apply for PK-3, PK-4, a school that is not their assigned in-boundary no matter what grade, or any public charter school IS PART OF THE LOTTERY.

What is PK-3? PK-4? It’s for 3 and 4 year olds. I know, sounds pretty straight-forward but I honestly had no idea when I dove into this pool of mud to try to figure out what all this meant. If your little cutie turns 3 by Sept 30, they can enroll in PK-3. If they turn 4 by Sept 30, you can enroll in PK-4

MySchoolDC.org is home to info regarding the lottery. A lot of information is there, as well as the application when it becomes available, but you have to go through the FAQ’s to piece it all together.

If you need to do your research on schools, this info is also online. You will find it in a bunch of places.

Each school’s website:

DC Urban Mom message board. If you want to hear how everyone else’s kid is smarter than yours.

The school sites will give you just the facts. Numbers are skewed on Great Schools if there’s a school that “teaches to the test.” The school could get high marks that may or may not reflect the experience. I’m a real estate agent and unfortunately can’t discuss schools with you much beyond location. We’re just not allowed. My version of a good school may be different than Mary Poppins or Joan Crawford.

The city offers something called Ed Fest which happens near the end of the calendar (not school) year. You can visit to find out more about each school. There are many public charter schools in DC that participate in the lottery. This is a good place to learn more about them.

 Here’s what you need to know. This is the priority on which all DCPS lottery decisions are made:

  1. Child lives In Boundary, with a sibling already in the school.
  2. Child lives In Boundary, without a sibling already in the school.
  3. Child lives Out of Boundary, with a sibling already in the school.
  4. Child lives Out of Boundary, without a sibling already in the school.

This means that you could have scored a spot for your Sally, even though you live out of boundary, but Sally’s younger sister may not get a spot when it’s her turn, if a child who lives in boundary without another sibling in the school wants that school. (drink)

Here’s something else you need to know. The lottery is unequally equal. What the hell does that mean? It means you’re nothing, even when you sort of should be. You may move to a specific neighborhood because you want to be in-boundary for the school and you have several children. You figure okay – maybe my oldest won’t get into their Pre-K, but the siblings have a pretty good shot. Your thinking would not be off the wall.

But then, a family who has never been on this continent moves to your neighborhood from 10,000 miles away for a one-year job in DC. They don’t need to prove residency until they enroll. So, as long as they have their DC address, and can prove it by the start of school they are fine. Their child has just as much of a chance as yours does to that coveted Pre-K space. Yes, even if you were born here, even if you have been paying taxes here for your whole life, even if you went to that school as a child, even if you scrimped and saved to buy a house in this neighborhood so you could go to the pre-k. DC does not have any system in place to prioritize the children of families who are domiciled here.

If you are outraged, I’m right there with you.

If you think you can dodge this order because you’re charming or you know people, take note. The powers that be at DCPS take the lottery very seriously. The DCPS lottery is no joke. Chancellors have been fired or resigned because of calling in favors to get their own children or children of people who work in the Mayor’s office in ahead of the lottery.

You get no preferences for applying early, for being employed by the school, for funding a three-ring circus outside your school of choice. Of course I’m not unconvinced that all shenanigans have been halted because even the most overcrowded schools take in out of boundary students. My kids are in one of them. 30 kids in a class is no joke for even the most experienced and patient of teachers.

Chancellors before 2007 – were called “Superintendents”. DC has had a steady stream of changes in leadership going back to the 1970’s. This means that there are elements of DCPS that constantly feel “shaky.” Thank your lucky stars for the parents and teachers who came before us to have accomplished what they have. But, that’s for another day and more wine.

So let’s finish up the lottery. The deadline for high school is February 1 every year, and the deadline for PK through 8th grade is March 1 every year. Results come out around the end of March but it is different each year so make sure to check the deadlines.

When you fill out your lottery application, you can select up to 12 schools. They explain to you that it’s important to list them in order of preference. (DUH) Once you have a matched school on your list, everything below the match is discarded, and you are automatically added to the wait list to every school that is higher than your match.

When you get your results, you have until May 1 usually to accept your spot. Make sure to check the deadline though as it changes each year.

I have a lot of irritation and lack of confidence in how the schools here are run. But what keeps us here is our school and our parent community. We’ve been amazingly lucky to have had some awesome teachers for our kids thus far. But it truly takes a village. Please remember this when you get your little one enrolled. Get involved with the school because it’s our involvement as parents that makes the difference for the schools.