Parents hope for scarce slots at a charter school lottery.

Golden Ticket

(Permission to rebroadcast in whole or in part is hereby granted. A courtesy super or CG crediting the Mackinac Center would be appreciated.)

Video transcript appears below. To read an article about the South Arbor Academy lottery, click here.

On a mild spring afternoon, hundreds of cars line up outside South Arbor Charter Academy in Ypsilanti to take kids home for the day.

Inside the school, dozens of parents will find out if they can perform the same after-school ritual with their own kids next year.

Carmen Foster said: "It has a very good reputation. We know a lot of people who send their kids here, and they really like it."

"I know how much I love NHA and love this building," said Michelle Buchanan. "Especially — I worked here five years ago."

Tiffany Dorsey said: "I have my heart set here. So I'm going out on a limb, and I'm going out on faith!"

Each year, this charter school, affiliated with National Heritage Academies, gets more applicants than openings. So like at many charter schools around the country, a public lottery held in the spring determines who will fill the available seats in the fall. The procedure is carefully carried out with the help of a third-party person who draws names.

There are 556 applicants vying for just 26 openings for the upcoming school year.

That many students would be enough to open a whole new school, but that won't happen, because Michigan law effectively limits the number of charter schools in the state.

This is the second time around for Tameka Lewis. Her fifth- and sixth-grade daughters were selected in last year's lottery.

"That was exciting!" Lewis said. "It was like — I always equate it to like Willy Wonka and the golden ticket. That's how I felt. You know? Like I had the golden ticket. And when the girls found out, they were ecstatic."

Tameka hopes her luck continues this year with twin kindergartners and a second-grade son.

"And I've had him on the waiting list for the entire year in hopes that he would get in," Lewis said. "I'm just like, keeping my fingers crossed that my second-grader gets in; we'll see what happens."

South Arbor Academy opened in fall of 1999, centered around four pillars of education, the first being academic excellence — as demonstrated by the school's standardized test scores, which were the 7th highest in the entire state in 2009.

Beyond academics, the school promotes parental partnerships, student accountability and moral focus.

"They have a strong emphasis on moral issues, like respect," Foster said.

Lewis said: "And the principles they teach here are wonderful — wonderful."

"The curriculum, the parent involvement, the moral focus — I mean, it's what I want for my kids," Buchanan said.

And as it turns out, it's what Michelle will get for her kids.

"And after four wait lists, I just wasn't sure it was going to happen," Buchanan said, "and this — I really want them to be in an NHA school, and so [this] took my breath away, as you could tell in there."

Tameka and Tiffany also have the luck of the draw.

But as the numbers are drawn and names are read, Carmen finds out her son, like 12,000 other charter school hopefuls in Michigan this year, will have to settle for the waiting list.

Carmen may be disappointed, but not discouraged.

"We also applied at other charter schools in the Canton area," Foster said. "So those are other possibilities."

While Carmen Foster's car may not be among them this time around, South Arbor Academy can be assured of a full parking lot — and classrooms — once again next year.


Kathy Hoekstra is a communications specialist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Lorie Shane is the managing editor of the Mackinac Center's Michigan Education Report and Michael Van Beek is education policy director at the Mackinac Center. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.