From a public policy standpoint, if you asked charter leaders what they would like most from their government I believe there would be an almost uniform call for one thing: to be left alone. If you have been following news about this sector you will have observed that it seems everyone wants to impose their will on charters. One D.C. Councilman wants to give new schools the right to offer a neighborhood admission preference. The Chairman of the Council’s education committee threatens to tinker with the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula and end the practice of having revenue follow the child. The D.C. Board of Education is trying to impose a revised set of high school graduation requirements. Politicians toss around the idea of a cap on the number of charters that can be created and call for coordination between the locations of these alternative schools with DCPS. It is enough to keep those of us in the movement up at night.
The second item on the wish list would be to solve the permanent facility issue. Shuttered DCPS sites should be turned over to charters at no cost. Traditional schools don’t pay rent for their space and charters as public institutions should enjoy the same right. And it appears discriminatory for those working in the Wilson Building to happily pay for renovations to underutilized regular classrooms when charters have to fend for themselves when fixing up DCPS properties that have been allowed to deteriorate beyond recognition.
The last item I will mention is closely related to facilities. Charters would like to be treated equally when it comes to funding. News reports that DCPS receives $13,000 more per child compared to charters does not sit well when you are struggling mightily to keep high performing teachers from going elsewhere. It is not enjoyable to negotiate with banks on tenant improvement loans when you are limited to a $3,000 per student facility allotment and it is estimated that the other system receives three times as much. It seems exceedingly odd that you have to pay for attorneys and building maintenance when regular schools receive these services for free. Many people who, like me, are drawn to education reform as a civil rights issue do not understand being treated like we are being told we can only sit at the back of the bus.
I understand that Councilman Catania will be holding meetings later this week on the 2014 DCPS budget and the Mayor’s Master Facility Plan. I hope I have provided him with a good place to start the discussions.