Demand high in Lafayette for spots in charter schools

The demand for classroom spots at two of the three new charter schools set to open in August is exceeding the available supply, and officials say they likely will use a lottery to decide who gets in.

Nearly 2,000 children have applied for spots at the three privately run schools, according to figures provided by the companies launching the two new charters in Lafayette and a third in Youngsville.

Lotteries are expected for at least two of the schools because of the high interest.

“We are totally excited that the community has embraced a new opportunity,” said Mary Louella Riggs-Cook, board president of the Lafayette Charter Foundation.

The nonprofit group is working with Florida-based Charter Schools USA to open the Lafayette Renaissance Charter Academy at the Couret Farms development in north Lafayette and the Acadiana Renaissance Charter Academy in Youngsville near the Sugar Mill Pond development.

As of Thursday afternoon, 769 students had applied for 591 slots at the new Youngsville charter, and 536 students had applied for the 591 slots at the new school at Couret Farms in north Lafayette, according to Charter Schools USA.

Youngsville parents are elated about a new school coming in to help ease school crowding in that quickly growing community, Cook said, and north Lafayette applications are picking up after a slow start.

The third charter school to open next school year in Lafayette Parish, Willow Charter Academy, has received 621 applications for 492 seats.

“The enrollment has exceeded anything we could have imagined,” said Jay Miller, pastor of The Family Church and a member of the board overseeing the development of Willow Charter Academy.

The charter school will be in the former Albertsons grocery store on the Evangeline Thruway.

Miller said a $4 million renovation is expected to begin in about two weeks to fill out the shell of the old store with 16 classrooms, an indoor playground and an indoor gymnasium.

Construction already has begun on the stand-alone facilities for the new charter schools at Couret Farms and in Youngsville.

The Willow Charter Academy will begin as a K-5 school and gradually expand to eighth grade as the first wave of students progresses.

The other two charters will begin as K-6 schools and expand to eighth grade.

Open enrollment for all three charter schools — the first privately run charters in Lafayette — ended on March 31. However, applications are still being accepted.

Students who applied during open enrollment have first shot in the lottery for admission.

Although total applications already exceed total slots at two of the schools, spaces could still be available for specific grades because some grades could have fewer applicants than others.

The Lafayette Parish School Board had opposed three charter schools, but backers won approval from the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, which can OK charter schools even if local school boards don’t want them.

The introduction of charter schools in the parish could cut into the finances of the School Board, because state money and local taxes that would ordinarily go to the public school system follow the students who shift to one of the three new charter schools.

The shortfall is estimated at around $7 million for the upcoming school year.

Despite that, Lafayette Parish Superintendent Pat Cooper has voiced support for charter schools. He has said the new charters will bring new education facilities to a parish in dire need of more space for students.