Inequity in D.C. charter school fundraising caused by inequity in city financing

The Washington Post’s Michael Allison Chandler this morning focuses on fundraising in D.C.’s charter movement and brings to our attention what she describes as “a serious inequity between schools that raised millions of dollars and many that raised little or none.”  In fact between 2012 and 2014 just three charters, E.L. Haynes, KIPP DC, Maya Angelou raised a total of $14.5 million, almost half of what all 60 charter schools brought in during this period.

I know what the leaders of all the other schools are saying to themselves because I have mouthed these words as well.  “We should be so lucky.”

Running a charter school in the nation’s capital is like being placed into jail for helping a senior citizen cross the street.  You start out with no place to begin operating.  Shuttered DCPS facilities are off limits.  Commercial space is too expensive and frowned upon as an option because it is seen as lining the pockets of private developers with public money.  After you have gone through the seemingly requisite failure of three potential deals you face neighborhood opposition to the building you have identified.  In addition, you better not locate near an exiting traditional school due to the fear that you will steal their kids.  This total lack of faith in the programs being offered by DCPS is all you really need to know about education in Washington, D.C.

Of course, the structure you find will need to be renovated.  Here you have to convince a bank that the $3,072 per pupil is sufficient to borrow $20 million.  These days that amount of money doesn’t go nearly as far as you would think when you have to replace air conditioners and water lines.  This is why charters often have to open without gymnasiums, or libraries, or sufficient space for teachers to be able to plan their lessons.  Also do not forget that no charter opens with their final enrollment and you have an all encompassing puzzle that can only be described as possessing an intractable solution.  Finally, the DC Public Charter Board states that academically you need to be Tier 1 on their Performance Management Framework on day 1.  The fact that so many school leaders have been able to figure out how to do all of this proves there is a heaven.

There is much Mayor Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles could do to help this situation so that charters don’t need to resort to fundraising.  Can we reach a settlement in the FOCUS coordinated funding equity lawsuit so that charters receive the same operating dollars that the regular schools get?  The shortfall is estimated at about $100 million a year.

Could we please get access to closed DCPS facilities?  This is such an easy part of the solution that it is a total mystery why it has not already taken place.  People are confused because the Deputy Mayor directly faced this issue as the founder and executive director of E.L. Haynes PCS.

Lastly, we need to being some fairness to the dollars the city spends on school renovations.  Charters are public schools like the traditional ones and it cannot be that the Mayor and D.C. Council plan upgrades to their system’s schools in the hundreds of millions in cash while charters are restricted by the facility allotment tied to enrollment.

Perhaps if we tackled the problems detailed above charters would not have to ask anyone for an additional dime.

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