Federal law replacing No Child Left Behind appears to be a mess

Today, the Washington Post’s Emma Brown reports on the U.S. Department of Education’s draft regulations implementing the Every Students Succeeds Act, the law that replaced No Child Left Behind.  It appears that these rules are the best most recent example of why the federal government should not have a role in public education.

The legislation still requires that schools test children in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school.  But educational institutions can also include other measures that would impact the one letter grade that the school receives.  For instance, the ranking can be impacted by, according to Ms. Brown, whether advanced course work is available and how many students are chronically absent.  The report card would also have to reveal “data on per-pupil expenditures; the percentage of students enrolled in preschool programs; the rate at which high school graduates go on to enroll in higher education; and the percentage of English learners who become proficient in the language.”  Look for other factors to gradually seep in including parental and student satisfaction scores and the availability of after school clubs.

The problem here is that so much of the information that is going to be required to be shared can easily be manipulated by local school districts.  For example,  the CATO Institute’s Adam Schaeffer demonstrated years ago that public school systems uniformly underestimate the amount of money it costs them to educate a child, often by a factor of 50 percent.   In other words we have now gone from a system in which schools are assessed on objective data to one in which subjective judgements will be made.  How much of the letter grade that is left up to interpretation will most likely not be revealed to parents.

It is obvious that in an effort to junk a law that no one really liked we have replaced it with a tremendous mush created by committee.  No wonder the Founders excluded Congress from having a part in regulating public education in the U.S. Constitution.  It appears that they knew exactly what they were doing.

The Fight for Children Annual School Luncheon

Yesterday, I had the distinct pleasure of attending Fight for Children’s Annual School Luncheon which was a celebration of the schools that have joined this organization’s efforts to improve early childhood education in the nation’s capital.  For those who may not know, Fight for Children, though its Joe’s Champs program,  is now working with 29 schools teaching 4,100 students ages three through eight, 84 percent of whom quality for free or reduced cost meals.  Joe’s Champs is of course named for Fight for Children’s founder Joseph E. Robert, Jr. who passed away at the end of 2011.

You can tell the stature of any non-profit in this town by who is in attendance at its events, and by this standard Fight for Children is obviously at the pinnacle.  Mayor Bowser was there as well as all of Washington D.C.’s leaders in public education.  These included my friend DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson, PCSB deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux, State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang, and Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles. 

When you arrived at the picturesque Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center’s Pavilion Room the lobby was filled with placards honoring the seven schools that comprise the first cohort of Joe’s Champs schools that joined the effort in 2013.  These include DC Bilingual PCS, Chamberlain Elementary Campus Friendship PCS, Southeast Elementary Academy Friendship PCS, Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS, Potomac Prep PCS, Ingenuity Prep PCS, and Powell Elementary.  I immediately met Marsha McLean, one of the eight Joe Champs school mentors.  Ms. McLean enthusiastically explained that she has been with the program since its inception, paired with the Chamberlain and Woodridge Elementary Campuses of Friendship PCS.  She described her excitement in working with the principals and assistant principals of these institutions, bringing resources and coaching to their instruction of pre-Kindergarten students.  We even discussed our mutual respect for Friendship’s founder Donald Hense.  In fact, I was able to speak to several of the mentors gathered for this occasion, and I have to say that if even half of their energy is absorbed by these young scholars then there are universities in this country that are going to have to find some extra spaces for their new eager undergraduates.

I was greeted warmly as usual by Fight For Children’s president and chef executive officer Michela English.  Standing next to her was chief operating officer Keith Gordon.  I have been observing Mr. Gordon for a year now and I don’t think I’ve met anyone who smiles more than he does.  It is abundantly clear that he has ever had a bad day.  Mr. Gordon related that there was interesting news that would be coming out of today’s event.

The meal started with a performance by about 16 three and four year olds from Elsie Whitlow Stokes.  The extremely well-behaved students performed a couple of songs for the crowd, in French.  I never repeat myself but I will here.  These were 16 three and four year olds singing to the audience in French.

Ms. Bowser then addressed the crowd and congratulated Fight for Children for the group’s 26 years of helping to transform public education in Washington, D.C.   It is a crucial endeavor.  The luncheon’s program states that even after the city’s two decades of school reform 75 percent of third graders are still not proficient in reading and math.  This is why Fight for Children, with its nine staff members and budget of about $7 million a year, is trying to ensure that “every third grader has the necessary foundation to succeed in school.”

Next on the program was a fascinating panel interview of three Joe’s Champ’s school leaders moderated by ABC7 and News Channel 8 Anchor Jummy Olabanji.  This is the second consecutive year Ms. Olabanji has been the master of ceremonies, and joining her on stage were Anna Hickman from Ingenuity Prep PCS, Khabria Hundley representing the Chamberlain Campus of Friendship PCS, and Kira Moore of Powell Elementary.  There were many highlights of this discussion for me including the detailing of the Joe’s Champ training around Professional Learning Communities, which I understood to be a description of a highly engaging form of professional development that includes monthly discussions among teachers of public policy, research, and practices around early childhood education.  Ms. Moore spoke of a project methodology to teaching her kids which is driven by the students’ interests.  The astounding result, she informed us, are children that will not stop asking questions.  She portrayed it as bringing about”a culture of wonder” to the classroom.  Ms. Hickman informed us of the collaboration between the pre-K and Kindergarten classes at her school, with five year olds visiting the younger pupils to explain the fascinating things they would be learning in their first year of elementary school.

The program concluded with Ms. English making the announcement that Joe’s Champs is now ready to graduate to Version 2.0.  The Fight for Children CEO revealed that the program would expand beyond early childhood instruction and now assist students up to the third grade.  The first group of three extraordinary fortunate facilities to take part in this enhancement, Ms. English disclosed, are DC Bilingual, Elsie Whitlow Stokes, and Friendship’s Chamberlain.  The audience wasted no time in expressing their universal approval of her declaration through ecstatic applause.





We have lost some tremendous school choice heroes

A week ago Monday I attended a perfectly hosted event by the CATO Institute celebrating the life of Andrew Coulson.  For ten years Mr. Coulson was the director of the organization’s Center for Educational Freedom.  He died at the age of just 48 on February 7, 2016 from a brain tumor.

Mr. Coulson was best known for his book Market Education: The Unknown History which he wrote in 1999.  Executive vice-president David Boaz reminded those in attendance that Bill Gates quit school to form Microsoft while Mr. Coulson left Microsoft to reform schools.  I knew him for his pioneering effort to better understand the real cost of educating children attending DCPS.  Most people assumed as true that the number was around $15,000 a student a year.  Mr. Coulson showed that the statistic was really double that amount.  No one was ever able to refute his claim.

Mr. Coulson started his career in public policy at the Mackinac Center.  There he worked with Joe Overton, a friend of mine who was another pioneer in the school choice movement.  Mr. Overton passed away at age 43 in 2003 when a plane he was piloting crashed to the ground.  His revolutionary work in education revolved around the use of the Universal Tuition Tax Credit as an alternative to the often negative perceptions associated with private school vouchers.  But I knew Mr. Overton best for the steady ethical advice he provided to me about my own career.

The same illness that overcame Mr. Coulson claimed the life of Joseph E. Robert, Jr.  For years it appeared that it was only Mr. Robert’s indomitable will that led to the continued operation of the Opportunity Scholarship Program, the federal plan that provides private school tuition for kids living in poverty in Washington, D.C.  We may never really understand why this man who was able to generate so much income during his 59 years decided to give so much of it away to those less fortunate than himself.

Besides the commonalities that all three of these men’s existences ended much earlier than they should have, and that each fought for better educational opportunities for the most vulnerable individuals, they also shared an often all-encompassing love of life.  We saw an excellent example of that in a video presented at the CATO tribute regarding Mr. Coulson in which you could hear him laughing throughout the five minute presentation.  I had the chance to play tennis with Mr. Overton who demonstrated the identical outlook evident in his strong will to win. Anyone who had the chance to attend one Fight Night Gala witnessed firsthand the same quality in Mr. Robert.

It is in honor of these gentleman’s bold legacies and their enthralling love of life that we must continue to fiercely advocate for equal opportunity in public education for those who are the poorest among us.

D.C. Council slams door on charter school facility allotment increase

Yesterday the D.C. Council passed the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Support Act.  Missing in the legislation was an increase in the charter school per pupil facility allotment from the current $3,124 to $3,250, an amount sought by schools, parents, students, FOCUS, the Association of Chartered Public Schools, and Democrats for Education Reform.  From the FOCUS press release:

“Since 2008, facilities funding has increased only $16 per student, failing to keep pace with both inflation and the ever-rising cost of construction. Washington, DC public charter schools, per student, receive about $6,558 dollars less each year than their traditional public school counterparts.”

The recommended change in the formula would have amounted to a small 2.2 percent adjustment to the formula.  The facility allotment has gone up by a minuscule $16 per student since Mayor Fenty was in office in 2008.  Commented DER president Catharine Bellinger:

“DFER DC fought hard for a modest increase of 2.2% – a total of $2.8 million – for charter school facilities this budget cycle. But, despite this broad-based advocacy and more than 200 parent and grandparent phone calls to Council offices calling for right-sizing the funding level, city leaders still failed to invest in the 45% of the District’s public school students who attend public charter schools.”

I understand the outrage, I really do.  Keeping the facility allotment flat means that charters will have an almost impossible challenge in obtaining and renovating permanent homes in the red hot Washington, D.C. commercial real estate market.  Add to this issue the FOCUS-coordinated funding inequity lawsuit that a judge sent to arbitration only to find that the city refused to arbitrate, and it appears that the 39,000 children in charters are really second or third class citizens.  But perhaps the charter movement has only itself to blame.

In this era of cooperation and collaboration the leaders of our sector have gone out of their way to work with Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Education Niles, D.C. Council education committee chairman Gosso, and DCPS Chancellor Henderson.  But what we are talking about here is the future lives of our children.  The stakes could not be higher.  My kids are grown but if my offspring were young they would be in a charter.  Then, because this funding directly determines the quality of teaching taking place in the classroom, I would fight as if my continued existence depended on these dollars.

Perhaps its time to take a different course?

D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation Luncheon

Last Friday I had the honor of attending the tenth annual D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation luncheon which was held in the intimate performance space of downtown’s The Hamilton.  It was a momentous occasion because this was the first year that the program that trains high school students to be able to work in the construction industry has operated out of IDEA Public Charter School.  For the past nine years the foundation had a relationship with DCPS’s Francis L. Cardozo Educational Campus.  It has been about fifteen months since I last interviewed IDEA’s head of school and chief executive officer Justin Rydstrum, and he was only too happy to catch me up on the school’s progress.

“It has been a tremendous experience having these courses at IDEA,” Mr. Rydstrom exclaimed.  He revealed to me that as part of the new relationship with the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation the organization invested $500,000 in the charter school in order to take six small classrooms and turn them into four state-of-the-art learning facilities with updated air-conditioning, heating, and bathrooms.  The IDEA CEO explained that about one third of his student body, or about eighty to ninety high school pupils, participate in the training program.

Another extremely exciting part of the cooperation with the Trades Foundation is that the parents get to take advantage of this course of study.  Mr. Rydstrom detailed that there are classes for adults four nights a week.  In addition, the Memorandum of Understanding between IDEA and the Foundation provides for an additional teacher and a director.  Next year an extra half-time instructor will be added.  Examples of some of the classes that are offered include architecture, carpentry, design, electrical, HVAC, and plumbing.

It was then time for me to meet others in the room.  The first individual I ran into was former DC Public Charter School Board chairman Tom Nida.  Mr. Nida remarked that an interesting aspect of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation is that its board of directors, upon which he serves, includes representatives from the leading builders in the nation’s capital.  For example, Mr. Nida pointed out, the effort is led by Foundation president John McMahon who is also the chairman of Miller and Long Concrete Construction.  Of course, as Mr. Nida revealed, the advantage of this board composition is that when these students graduate from IDEA they are practically guaranteed jobs because the market is so tight for people with the skills being taught at the charter.  The former PCSB chair stated that another fascinating aspect of all of this is that women now make up half of all enrolled students.

Representing the PCSB on this day was Steve Bumbaugh.  I asked him how the things were going on the board.  “You know,” he asserted without hesitation, “I really believe that the board is approaching its third phase.”  The first phase, Mr. Bumbaugh opined, involved simply opening charters.  He went on to detail that the organization, under Scott Pearson, then went on to transition to a focus on openness and transparency it its operations.  The third phase, Mr. Bumbaugh, believes, involves equity.  He asserted that we have to figure out how to provide the same level of educational quality to those living in poverty as we do for those kids who are better off financially.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Shelly Karriem, the program director of the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation.  She has been in this role since 2006.  Ms. Karriem spoke passionately about the changes and growth the program has experienced in her ten years in her position.  But mostly she wanted to talk to me about how fortunate she feels to be at IDEA PCS.  She highlighted the fact that everyone, from Mr. Rydstrom to the school’s faculty to the students, have welcomed her staff with open arms.  She is excited that the scholars have shown such a high level of respect for the courses and the physical space.  The program director expressed that, as the daughter of a handyman and as a past educator herself, she now feels like she is really home now that the foundation is operating out of this charter school.

The schedule for the event was filled with awards and scholarships to students who have demonstrated qualities such as an outstanding character, competence, good citizenship, competitive spirit, and a drive to meet every challenge.  These traits were certainly expressed by the tenth grader I was introduced to by the name of Donovan Cayard.  After his firm handshake, Mr. Cayard handed me a business card with his name on it, the title of the program, and the year of his graduating class. Looking me straight in the eyes this student boasted about how happy he was to be studying construction.  Mr. Cayard confidently expressed that he would like to go to college one day but that his studies in computer design provides him with a trade he can practice as a profession and one that “in the future allows me to be a better person.”  I believe in that one sentence Mr. Cayard has expressed everything you need to know about the D.C. Students Construction Trades Foundation.










D.C. Charter Board approves 1 new school; recognizes Jo Baker

At last evening’s meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board the group mostly recovered from the unevenness of last month’s session.  First on the agenda was the presentation of an Exceptional Service Award to my longtime friend Josephine Baker.  As almost everyone associated with our local movement knows, Ms. Baker served as the first board chair of the PCSB and was for years its executive director.  I mostly associate her involvement as one half of the dynamic team that was formed with Tom Nida during the period of explosive growth of charters in the nation’s capital.  Executive director Scott Pearson reminded the audience that Ms. Baker played a vital role in the development of all of the initial processes developed by the board including the application procedure for the approval of new schools, the integration of charters granted by the old D.C. Board of Education into the oversight of the PCSB, and the strengthening of accountability which included the creation of the Performance Management Framework.  Obviously this was a well deserved honor, and Ms. Baker appeared especially grateful to be recognized by her peers.

This is the second consecutive meeting that the board has given out an Exceptional Service Award, with the first going to past chair John “Skip” McKoy.

There was no suspense when it came to decisions regarding which of the two schools would be given the go-ahead to begin operating next year.  Exactly as I predicted in April, Interactive Academy’s application was denied and Sustainable Future’s was granted for exactly the reasons I detailed a month ago.  My only comment is that it is a sad state for our city when only two bids for new schools are received, especially considering all of the high performing Charter Management Organizations that are currently operating across the United States.  It now seems like a difficult uphill slog to get our sector above the 44 percent share of public school students in the nation’s capital.

A significant amount of the rest of the meeting was spent over a public hearing regarding the planned relocation of Lee Montessori PCS from its current site at 200 Douglas Street, N.E., where it shares its building with Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS, to the spectacularly beautiful St. Paul’s College on Fourth Street, N.E. near Catholic University.  Lee Montessori would co-locate with Washington Leadership Academy PCS, a new school opening in the 2016 to 2017 term.  Lee is in its second year with approximately 74 students in grades Pre-Kindergarten three to two, eventually going up to the sixth grade.  It already has a wait list of 482 students.

Many people spoke publicly about the proposed move of Lee Montessori, with the great majority expressing support for the new facility.  A few members of the community from Chancellor’s Row, a townhouse development which is actually a part of the college grounds, stated that the charters had only recently informed them of their plans, and that the schools would bring an excessive amount of traffic to the area.  However, the supporting documentation to the charter amendment details multiple activities conducted by both schools to inform residents, and if you are at all familiar with the area around the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception you know that the presence of these charters will have a negligible impact on automobile congestion in this part of town.  The permanent facility should be approved.




The Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS 15 year Shining Star Gala

My wife and I had the distinct pleasure last Thursday evening of attending the 15 year anniversary Shining Star Gala hosted by the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School.  Note to all other charters out there:  if you want to stage a perfect celebration follow the pristine example established by this institution.  We had never been to a Shining Star event and now we wish that we had had the opportunity to attend all 16.  Here is the way it works: You proceed from classroom to classroom, and in each one students proudly demonstrate material from their academic courses.  One of the first scholars we met in the Celebrating Our Roots classroom was Dayell Preston, a tenth grader who is spending his second year at TMA.  He was playing Martin Luther King, Jr. and provided the packed house with an exquisite rendering of a portion of Dr. King’s infamous “I have a Dream” speech.  A second student offered an interpretation of remarks by Supreme Court Judge Thurgood Marshall.

There was one part that was particularly remarkable.  In talking with Mr. Preston and other Thurgood Marshall students such as Deonna MaKoy in the advanced geometry class, we found that it was not only the subject matter that these young people had mastered.  They were uniformly perfectly articulate in the manner in which we were addressed, and their attire was chosen as if they were about to go on a job interview.  We were consistently spoken to in a highly respectful manner while being looked directly in the eyes.  In other words, it was obvious that this charter spends as much time on teaching the soft skills that will lead these individuals to becoming successful adults as it does providing them the knowledge necessary to go on to college and beyond.  Perhaps all of this effort accounts for students proudly remarking to us about how challenging it has been to get to where they are, as well as being effusively grateful for the numerous flexible office hours provided by the faculty.

It didn’t hurt our moods that we were greeted upon our arrival with some special cocktails.  In addition, many of the rooms had food stations in the back complete with catered items such as chicken sausage sliders and jalapeno-spiced hush puppies.  Hors D’oeuvres were passed as we scurried through the eight student demonstration centers.  In the hallways above our heads were banners that read “Over 93% of alumni enroll in college within one year of graduation,” and “100% of Thurgood Marshall Academy graduates have been accepted to college since 2005.” As a long-past high school debate team member I especially enjoyed seeing a rhetorical volley between two pupils taking the pro and con positions regarding whether this country should accept Syrian refugees.  Some of the other presentations included Five In Five, a demonstration of legal skills such as argumentation, negotiation, and advocacy; Stem Fair, a re-creation of STEM booths from this year’s Fair; and Clubs Showcase, which shared information about some of the after-school enrichment programs in which 80 percent of TMA students participate, such as the Chess and the Green Club.

After about an hour it was time to proceed to the gymnasium for the formal program.  The many multicolored tables were filled with a plethora of savory desserts.  Attendees were each provided with a highly professional glossy brochure that described the Gala’s activities.  Waiters served wine and coffee to the guests.  Welcoming us from the stage was Richard Pohlman, who became TMA’s executive director this term after serving four years as the chief operating officer of E.L. Haynes Public Charter School.  He is only the third person to hold this title in the school’s history, and the two previous E.D.’s, Josh Kern and Alexandra Pardo, were in attendance for the night’s festivities.  It is fitting that Mr. Pohlman is now the head of the school since in my 2011 interview with Mr. Kern he commented that E.L Haynes is the charter with which TMA shares the most characteristics.  Jenny Niles, D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Education and the founder of E.L. Haynes PCS was also in the audience.  Mr. Pohlman then turned over the lectern to Richard Roe, director of the D.C. Street Law Program, a professor of Law at Georgetown University, and a member of the TMA Board of Trustees.  According to the Georgetown University website, the “Street Law Project specializes in educating the public about the law. In the Street Law High Schools Clinic, law students teach practical law in high schools in the District of Columbia. In the Street Law Community Clinic, law students teach in community and correctional settings, such as the D.C. Jail, homeless shelters, addiction treatment centers and juvenile correctional settings.”

It was most appropriate that Mr. Roe spoke because, as we quickly learned, Thurgood Marshall Academy was created as a project of the Street Law Program as eleven students and professors saw a need to provide the type of education to children living in poverty that was available to them growing up.  As Mr. Roe explained the motto of Georgetown Law is “Law is the means – Justice is the end” and it was heroes such as Mr. Kern who took these words to heart.  400 students attend TMA annually, with over 90 percent living in Wards 7 and 8.  75 percent of those enrolled qualify for free or reduced cost lunch.  100 percent are African-American.  TMA students are awarded millions of dollars in college scholarships each year, and based upon reading and math standardized test scores it is one of the highest performing open enrollment high schools in D.C.

Also, to consistently round out the event, TMA’s Warrior Award was presented to at-large D.C. Councilman David Grosso.  Mr. Grosso also participated in the Street Law Program when he attended Georgetown University Law School.  The Councilman spoke about his passion to improve education in our city as part of his strong desire to strengthen human rights.  He informed us that he had the opportunity earlier to play chess with a member of the school’s Chess Club although he observed that “he’s really more of a checkers kind of guy.”  He stated that he is proud of the fact that Thurgood Marshall Academy is one of the most academically successful schools in the city, but that his dream is that one day the students at Ballou High School reach the same level as those enrolled in TMA.  From the people I recognized in the crowd, I can safely say that the entire room shares exactly the same goal.





D.C. budget shorts charter school facilities


The D.C. Council’s Education Committee was surprised to find in this year’s Education Committee Budget Report that 24 DCPS buildings have still not yet been modernized, even after the District has spent more than $1 billion in construction costs since the school modernization process started in earnest in 2008.

One wonders what emotion they would collectively express if they learned that far more public charter schools have consistently suffered from inadequate facilities funding.  Imagine the bewilderment if they knew that the public charter school facility allocation has been increased only $16.00 per student in the last nine years.

This budget confirms the same sad fact that countless budgets before it have demonstrated: Washington D.C.’s public charter schools have been treated unjustly.  Not only does this impact public charter schools fiscally, but it also affects how charters can operate best to support their students. The public charter school community has asked for an additional $2.8 million to be allocated for facilities, a fraction of the $1.3 billion in capital funds allocated for DCPS.

Charter schools are forced annually to make exceedingly difficult decisions regarding every penny in their budgets.  Often those choices come down to spending more money on students in the classroom or repairs to boilers, windows, or roofs.  Frequently, it means a high performing charter must continue to push off the goal of expansion and the chance to serve the thousands of families desperate for a choice.  The end result is children stuck on waiting lists that have existed for years.

The city, with this education budget, is once again making it abundantly clear that if you want your child to take advantage of a better opportunity at a charter, then they cease to have the same rights as students who attend the traditional public schools. This is more than just unfair. It’s immoral.

The District Council must do the right thing. Provide additional facilities funding for charter school students and recognize all children as equal.




School choice is a dream for most Americans

Charter schools have seen tremendous growth in the United States.  For example, in 2014 more than 2.6 million children attended a charter.  According to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools this number has more than doubled since 2007.

Sounds good?  Well not really.  Also in 2014, 49,751,000 pupils attended their neighborhood school.  This means that educational choice was only available to 5.4 percent of families.  If you consider other choice programs such as vouchers, educational tax credits, and educational savings accounts the picture is even worse.  According to the CATO Institute, 287,298 scholars took advantage of one of these programs a couple of years ago which translated into about 0.6 percent of all students in the United States. The reason that these numbers look so bad is that so many of these offerings are so small.  For example, I wrote not too long ago about Maryland passing a school voucher law.  That’s good news.  But as CATO’s Jason Bedrick points out, “roughly 1,000 low-income Maryland students could receive a voucher next year, which is great for them, but doesn’t do anything for the other 99.9 percent of Maryland’s 880,000 district school students.”

Here in the District kids are much more fortunate.  44 percent of students, almost 39,000 attend charters.  That compares to about 49,000 attending DCPS.  While this statistic may be impressive the percentage of those in charters has not increased in years.  It is almost as if some parents were fortunate enough to take advantage of choice while others are shutout.  This year’s charter school waiting list is estimated at 8,600 scholars.  The total wait list for all schools in the District is 2,100.

We also have a voucher program in the city for kids living in poverty.  About 1,200 young people receive a scholarship to a private school.  Only 1.4 percent of children get this option.

I don’t really understand what’s going on here.  We talk about streetcars and statehood, homeless shelters and affordable housing.  But if it’s societal ills you really want to fix, then let’s educate our children.  We know that school choice was the fountainhead that led to the significant improvement in the number of quality classrooms.  It’s past time to put this movement in overdrive.


OSP passes House, don’t get excited

Thursday of last week a reconstituted SOAR Act, the legislation that contains within it the Opportunity Scholarship Program, was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.  This is the second time in about six months that the bill that provides private school vouchers for children living in poverty has received an affirmative vote.

This is a prelude to getting the plan through the Senate and signed by the President.  This didn’t work out well towards the end of 2015 when it appeared that the retirement of Speaker Boenhner left school choice advocates flatfooted and unprepared with how to deal with strong Democratic Party opposition led by Congresswoman Pelosi.

Fortunately, there has been much work done since that go-around.  Solid support for a five year re-authorization has been expressed by the D.C. Mayor, the Chairman of the D.C. Council, eight of his fellow Council members, and in a really bizarre change-of-heart, D.C.’s non-voting Congressional Representative.  But none of this should be anywhere near this hard.

The OSP simply grants scholarships to poor families to enroll their kids in the same type of school that President Obama’s daughters attend.  There are many fine institutions that accept the vouchers such as Sidwell Friends, where Malia and Sasha go, the St. Peters School, Archbishop Carroll High School, and Gonzaga College High School.  A couple of years ago I interviewed the principal of St. Peters whose scholars at the time were completing a Student Families project through Catholic Charities.  The activity, which assembles breakfast meals for temporarily homeless individuals, is named after Joseph E. Robert, Jr., the man who when he was alive championed the OSP through the Three-Sector Approach that provides an equal amount of federal funding for DCPS, charters, and the private school vouchers.  At the time about 10 OSP students were at St. Peters.

The total cost of the plan is $45 million a year.

If providing a life-line to the most vulnerable among us is this hard, we really have to wonder what is being taught in our public schools.