At last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board Tom Nida received an Exceptional Service Award as I wrote about yesterday. The ceremony was moving in that both Josephine Baker and Dr. Ramona Edelin, the executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, spoke on his behalf as well as other members of the board. One major contribution that Mr. Nida made during his time as chair which was highlighted that I failed to mention was that it was under his tenure that 18 charters on 22 campuses that had been authorized by the D.C. Board of Education came under the control of the PCSB.
The evening’s session included a pubic hearing on a request by Rocketship PCS to open a second campus during the 2017 to 2018 school year in Ward 7. The charter opened its first school this term in Ward 8 that will eventually serve students in grades Pre-Kindergarten three to fifth grade. When Rocketship was first approved to open in the nation’s capital it was given permission to open eight campuses under specific conditions. This planned expansion will also serve students in grades Pre-Kindergarten three to fifth grade. Look for the proposed action to be approved at next month’s meeting.
The much more controversial agenda item was the charter amendment application by Basis PCS to open two new campuses enrolling an additional 936 students in grades Kindergarten through fourth grade to augment the 700 pupils in grades five through twelve currently being taught on 8th Street, N.W. The most significant portion of the questioning of Basis representatives came from PCSB board member Steve Bumbaugh. He revealed that for the last three weeks he had been studying the student enrollment data at the charter and he frankly found the numbers to be “concerning.” For example, he discovered that across the charter sector in D.C. 79 percent of students are economically disadvantaged but at Basis this number is 17 percent. Again, he observed, overall for charters 15 percent of pupils are classified as Special Education and at Basis this number is less than five percent. Moreover, at Basis less than 10 percent of kids are found to be At Risk while for charters that statistic is 51 percent. Finally, Mr. Bumbaugh explained that charters are characterized by student populations that include 7 percent English Language Learners while at Basis this percentile is zero.
In other words, the fear that I expressed years ago that Basis would create a school in the nation’s capital that ignored the original charter bargain to take care of those students often left behind by the traditional schools has become a reality. As you may recall I was asked by Basis creators Michael and Olga Block to become a founding board member of the franchise here. But after speaking with them, and learning more about the school, I gathered that it was not an institution intent on fulfilling the charter promise. After some contentious PCSB meetings, and assurances from Basis that this was not the case, the original charter application was approved.
Basis has delineated that its strategic mission is to expand by opening private schools where there is no charter law like it did in McLean, Virginia, and to use public money to build its enrollment where charters exist. However, this is not what our movement is all about. The Basis representatives made clear that there would be no change in direction in the population of children being served since they imagine that the new campuses would be located in Ward 1 or 2, not in Anacostia as one of the board members suggested. This replication request should be denied.