Debate over charter school walkability admissions preference makes media appearances

It appears that Mayor Muriel Bowser’s push for a charter school walkability admissions preference has caused quite a stir.  Over the weekend the editors of the Washington Post urged severe caution regarding the proposal.  They wrote:

“But there are ramifications to a neighborhood preference that need to be thought through. Most significant is whether a move to a neighborhood preference would lock-in neighborhood patterns of segregation that would keep students most in need out of high-quality charter schools.  A task force that looked at the issue in 2012 concluded that if neighborhood preferences were mandated for charter schools, children in Ward 7 and Ward 8 would be most hard hit by losing access to high-performing charters elsewhere in the city.”

Also last Thursday, the subject was discussed on WAMU’s The Kojo Nmamdi Show featuring Emily Lawson, the CEO of DC Prep PCS and Eboni-Rose Thompson,  Ward 7 Education Council chair.  Ms. Lawson indicated that her staff had done a preliminary analysis of the impact of the admissions preference regarding her student population and had concluded that a relatively small number of families would be impacted.  But Ms. Lawson’s schools are not the ones that are most central to the arguments over the preference since they already serve low-income students, although she did point out that gentrification has resulted in changes in some of the neighborhoods around her facilities.   The other guest, Ms. Thompson, did an outstanding job detailing the fears around restricting access to high performing charters for kids living in poverty that this amendment to the School Reform Act would bring, identical to those that I have highlighted along with the Washington Post editors and the 2012 Neighborhood Preference Task Force.

The most disappointing part of the program was the participation of the Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles.  She stated that she had just happened to hear about the radio show during a school visit and decided to call in.  When she was asked by the host why the subject of the day’s discussion had not first come before her own Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force, upon which Ms. Lawson sits, she responded that every issue that reaches her desk has cross-sector implications and therefore not all of them can be brought to this body.  This comment came even though one of the stated goals of the Task Force is to “explore cross-sector feeder patterns.”

It is not only this group that was caught off guard by the suggestion.  FOCUS was kept out of the loop as was the DC Public Charter School Board.  There really has to be much more inclusive stakeholder involvement when it comes to this question as well as others such as the per pupil charter school facility allotment and the turning over of vacant DCPS buildings to the sector that now educates 47 percent of all public school students in this city.  I expect much more from education leaders who have been intimately familiar with our local charters since their founding over 20 years ago.

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