D.C. Mayor right on school choice; U.S. Education Secretary is not

Last night, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser gave her third annual State of the District address and there was plenty in there for advocates of school choice to cheer.  In a strong direct refutation of a letter sent to Congress by 13 D.C. Council members, including David Grosso, the chairman of its education committee, that called for a phasing out of the Opportunity Scholarship Program that allows children living in poverty to attend private schools, the Mayor had this to say early in her remarks:

“We call on the President and Congress to uphold our 3-sector school funding approach that enhances PUBLIC EDUCATION funding in DC.” [Capitalization is in the original text.]

Of course, the 3-sector funds include equal dollars annually for the OSP, charters, and traditional schools.

Later on in her speech she returned to the subject of the District’s schools and commented on the charter sector:

“This year, I am also proud to further increase the public charter school facility allotment by 2.2 percent this year, and lock that increase in for the next four years. Adding millions more to the school facilities all across the District. As well as make available more public buildings for public charter school use.”

The raise in the per peril facility allotment does not reach the $3,250 floor that charter leaders had wanted, but at $3,193 it comes close.  Now Ms. Bowser just needs to add an automatic increase for inflation.  We are also going to hold her accountable for her promise to make additional surplus DCPS buildings available to those institutions that now educate 46 percent of all public school pupils in the nation’s capital.

While the D.C. Mayor hit the nail on the head regarding school choice, last Wednesday U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos missed it.  She was speaking at the Brookings Institution on the release of its 2016 Education Choice and Competition Index compiled by Senior Fellow Russ Whitehurst.  Denver, Colorado is the city at the top of the study’s rankings for having the greatest amount of school choice.  However, as the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss reports, Ms. DeVos did not agree.  From the Education Secretary’s prepared statement as provided by the Post:

“I am hopeful this report helps light a fire under [low-scoring cities] to better serve students. And while we may be tempted to emulate cities with a higher grade, I would urge a careful look.

The two-highest scoring districts, Denver and New Orleans, both receive A’s, but they arrive there in very different ways.

New Orleans provides a large number of choices to parents: All of its public schools are charters, and there is a good supply of affordable private schools. The state also provides vouchers to low-income students to attend private schools if they choose. Combined with its easy-to-use common application, New Orleans’ sophisticated matching system maximizes parental preference and school assignment.

Meanwhile, Denver scored well because of the single application process for both charter and traditional public schools, as well as a website that allows parents to make side-by-side comparisons of schools. But the simple process masks the limited choices.”

As I’ve written about many times before, I had the great opportunity to spend some time in Denver last summer as part of the Amplify School Choice conference sponsored by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.  There I learned first hand about the strong growth of charters in this city, and the way that the traditional public schools are held to the same accountability standards that charters face.  Here is what I wrote last August:

“Since 2005, according to Mr. Dan Schaller, director of advocacy for the Colorado League of Charter Schools, ‘DPS has closed or replaced 48 schools and opened more than 70, the majority of them charters.’  Low performing charters have also been shuttered.  For example, during the 2010 to 2011 school year 25 percent of schools up for renewal were closed.  Today there are 55 charter schools in Denver out of a total of 223, teaching 18.3 percent of all public school students.

The results of these initiatives have been nothing short of amazing.  The Denver Public School system is now the fastest growing urban district in America.  The high school graduation rate has jumped to 65 percent in four years.  From 2004 to 2014, the proportion of students at or above grade level in reading, math, and writing has climbed from 33 percent to 48 percent.”

Also, as I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, there is a District-Charter Collaboration Compact in this city that has many features that should be emulated here in D.C. and other places across the country.  I strongly recommend that Secretary DeVos make a visit to Denver and see the miracles taking place there such as the outstanding education being provided to low income children by schools such as DSST PCS.

CityBridge Education to begin incubating new schools

The exciting news came out yesterday that the CityBridge Foundation, transitioning as of January 1, 2017 to become the nonprofit CityBridge Education, will begin incubating and creating new schools and revolutionizing already exciting ones in alliance with the traditional and charter school sectors.  The organization’s aggressive goal is to “redesign or launch 25 innovative public schools within five years” in Washington, D.C. with the mission of “advancing equity and opportunity for all children.”

CityBridge Foundation co-founder, president, and personal hero Katherine Bradley has turned to recently named chief executive officer Mieka Wick to lead this charge.  I’ve worked with Ms. Wick for years at the CityBridge Foundation and frankly with her in this new role I have no doubt that success is the only possible outcome.

The effort is a natural outgrowth of the work of the foundation.  It has been providing financial and other support to promising charter and DCPS schools since its creation in 1994.  A list of partner schools can be found here.  In fact, Ms. Bradley was co-chair of the search committee that led to Kaya Henderson becoming chancellor.  Since 2013, CityBridge has been managing the awarding of grants to new or redesigned schools as part of Breakthrough Schools: D.C. modeled after the national Next Generation Learning Challenges competition.

It is also a natural outcome of the fact that here in the nation’s capital after 20 years of public school reform only 25 percent of students are scoring as college or career ready on the PARCC standardized examination.

So how will the group’s efforts become a reality?  From Wednesday’s press release:

“CityBridge Education will find teachers, leaders, and school teams with the ideas and the drive to create new, better models of school. Educators will be connected to structured design work, portfolio management, networks of talent, and the significant resources needed to launch or transform schools. We will build a cross-sector (district and charter) cohort of educators, regularly sharing their experiences (successes, as well as failures) in order to speed adoption of promising practices and transformative ideas. Our work will serve these innovative educators, all united in the belief that school can deliver results that honor the talent and potential inherent in children.”

There is one fundamental principle that will guide these efforts, and that is best explained by Ms. Wick:

“Although we expect a real diversity of schools in our portfolio, there is one principle animating all our school creation work: Our unifying imperative is equity. For far too long, schoolchildren in D.C. and other urban areas have been subject to a “narrative of disinheritance”—the persistent inequities of experience, resources, and perceived worth, based on race, class, or story. Great schools can disrupt and redirect that narrative. When designed thoughtfully, schools can be places where students—regardless of race or socioeconomic status—are secure, valued, and can stretch for significant accomplishment; they are places where love and justice thrive. Equitable schools always deliver academic results, but they do so in a way that develops in students key habits of autonomy, mastery, and independent thought. Only then, with schools that foster authentic human agency, can we say we have achieved our goal of intentional equity.”

It’s going to be an extremely interesting 60 months.

D.C. State Superintendent of Education to begin ranking charter schools

Last Wednesday evening, the State Board of Education approved D.C.’s education plan under the Every Student Succeeds Act.  ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015 and under the new law this year each state and the District of Columbia must report to the U.S. Department of Education accountability measures for public schools.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education has been working on this plan for 15 months.  According to the organization:

“OSSE participated in more than 70 meetings and gatherings on DC’s plan and received feedback and comments from more than 110 local education agencies (LEAs), government agencies, consortia, and other organizations in the District of Columbia. During the public comment period, which lasted from Jan. 30 to March 3, OSSE received more than 250 written comments on the state plan and shared the plan with families, educators and community groups during a series of community engagement sessions co-hosted with SBOE in each of DC’s eight wards. OSSE consolidated stakeholder feedback and incorporated it in the revised plan, which the State Board of Education approved Wednesday.”

Schools will be ranked on a five star system, similar to what the federal government currently does with hospitals, with a five being best.  It is a move emulating that of Denver, Colorado under its Denver District-Charter School Collaboration Compact in which both the charter and traditional school sectors are evaluated utilizing the same data.  Support for the evaluation system comes from Mayor Muriel Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles, State Superintendent of Education Hanseul Kang, DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson, and executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board Scott Pearson.

The Washington Post’s Alejandra Matos explains how schools will be judged:

“The bulk of the proposed D.C. rating formula is based on results from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exams, or PARCC, which are linked to Common Core standards. For elementary and middle schools, the plan takes into account how many students met or exceeded academic standards as well as how much progress students made compared with the previous school year.

For high schools, the rating system will consider only proficiency on PARCC exams. The OSSE said it is working on getting baseline data for academic growth for high schools and will eventually include it in the rating system.”

State Superintendent of Education Kang fills in some of the details:

“The approved plan reduces the weight on testing for elementary and middle schools while prioritizing student growth. The final plan reduces the weight on academic achievement in the elementary and middle school frameworks from 40 percent to 30 percent, keeping the growth weight at 40 percent. Also in the elementary and middle school frameworks, OSSE increased the school environment domain by 10 percentage points from 15 percent of a school’s total score to 25 percent. The accountability system will also include a new measure for access and opportunities for the first time in the 2019-20 school year. The final plan commits to piloting school climate surveys and developing a high school growth measure for possible inclusion in the accountability system.”

Not known at this point is the future of the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework.  Since 2012, charters have been evaluated on a tiered system of one through three.  Mr. Pearson and deputy director Naomi Rubin DeVeaux when asked did not provide an answer.

Ashley Carter, At-Large Representative to the State Board of Education, had this to say about the scorecard:

“Today, I vote to approve the proposed DC state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act put forth by the DC Office of State Superintendent of Education.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which was passed with bipartisan support in 2015, aimed at getting accountability right, especially in areas where No Child Left Behind failed.

I have spent the first three months of my term on the board working tirelessly learning the plan, engaging in public discussion around the city, and submitting questions regarding specific areas of the plan related to ratings, testing weight, and climate.

After listening to public, school, and expert input and testimony over the past several months the original draft plan was revised in several areas. This revised plan, put forth today, effectively combines views of the entire city. Our city is diverse, so are our schools and collaboration is essential to move forward with one plan for the various schools in our city. I believe this plan does that.”

School rankings under the new system will come out in the fall of 2018 utilizing information from the 2017 to 2018 school year.

Two charter school students among GWU Trachtenberg Scholarship winners

Yesterday, as has been the tradition since 1989, D.C. high school students learned that they were awarded full-ride Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarships to the George Washington University.  G.W. President Dr. Stephen Knapp surprised these extremely fortunate young people in person in their classrooms complete with college acceptance letters.  Two of the ten students currently attend charter schools.

These are not easy scholarships to win.  The press release announcing the awardees states that “GW selects students based on high school academic performance, strength of curriculum, recommendations, leadership qualities, community service, extracurricular activities and achievements and standardized test scores, should they choose to submit them under the university’s new test-optional policy.”  The students are nominated by their high school counselors.  There are also interviews with the students in order to identify the finalists.

Student winners from charter schools include Joel Escobar of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for Public Policy – Parkside High School Campus.  Mr. Escobar plans to major in computer science.  He is the first in his family to go to college, and will graduate at the top of his class.  Mr. Escobar has been a supporter of those who have suffered domestic abuse, and he is also captain of the school’s soccer team.

Jenesis Duran was offered a scholarship and is currently attending Washington Latin PCS.  She is also captain of the charter’s soccer team.  Ms. Duran wants to study international relations and so will attend the Elliot School as did my wife.  She is currently both the school’s secretary and treasurer, and is active in the League of United Latin American citizens.

Eight other students were presented with this prize.  They include:

Cherisse Hayes from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts; Lorrin Davis from the Columbia Heights Education Campus; Ana Lopez also from the Columbia Heights Education Campus; Sydney Austin from the National Cathedral School; William Davis from Woodrow Wilson High School; Michael Degaga from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School; Emmoni Morrisey from McKinley Technology High School; and Adonte Yearwood from Eastern High School.

Students enrolled in accredited charter, traditional public, and private schools are eligible for the Trachtenberg Scholarships.  The money is awarded annually and then renewed based upon satisfactory academic results.  166 young people have been provided with these grants since the program started, which covers tuition, room and board, books, and any additional fees.  Impressively, about 92 percent of those students receiving the scholarships have graduated.

This will be the last year that Dr. Knapp will be giving out these awards as he is retiring.  He has told me that he always feels that this is his favorite day of the year.

D.C. has nation’s strongest charter school law says Center for Education Reform

This morning, the Center for Education Reform released its 17th edition of its National Charter School Law Ranking & Scorecard.  As in 2015, the last time this report came out, Washington, D.C. is ranked at the top of the list primarily because of the independence and leadership of the DC Public Charter School Board.  But in many ways the document is a sobering analysis of the health of our movement across the country.  From the introduction by Jeanne Allen, CER’s founder and CEO:

“We are now well into the third decade since Minnesota passed the first state charter statute. The number of charter schools has continued to increase each year at a steady but relatively slow pace. But this past year, that growth abruptly came to a near halt. Overall, the nation’s nearly 7,000 charter schools still serve a fairly small percentage of the total number of students receiving public education, roughly six percent. Some states and cities have far more market share and point the way to what healthy expansive choice does for the whole of public education.”

Ms. Allen’s words are critically important for those of us who defend, and desperately want to see expanded, the ability of parents to chooose the best educational setting for their children.  Therefore, allow me to continue with her observations:

“CER noted in its 2015 report that while ‘…demand [for charter schools] continues to outstrip supply…’ there has been a ‘lack of progress made in state houses across the country over the past few years to improve the policy environment for charter schools’ and, more specifically, ‘… it is abundantly clear that little to no progress has been made over the past year…’

In recent years, there has been significant attention—especially, but not exclusively, among authorizers—on a perceived need to focus on charter ‘quality over quantity.’ The strategies discussed have included more stringent approval processes as well as ‘culling the herd’ during charter renewal to let only those schools deemed strong performers to continue.

This year, the movement crept to a near halt, a result of these very ill-conceived state policies and what is being termed ‘regulatory reload.’  There is widespread evidence of creeping regulatory intrusion in decisions regarding academic programming, curriculum, discipline and teacher qualifications. The problem, it appears, is policymakers who are given numerous recommendations and no longer know the difference between policies that advance the cause of effective charter schools and those that strangle them.”

D.C. is called out as particularly vulnerable to this trend of regulatory reload.  Again, from Ms. Allen:

“While still number one in our rankings, DC risks losing ground if it continues on a slow but slippery slope of allowing the city and its agencies to micromanage the authorizer’s processes. It’s also unique in that it has one authorizer that was created when the city did not have a ‘state’ board of education, and when the city was under the control of an independent board itself from the city council. That legacy of independence is now threatened by the restoration of city structures that have begun to assert various controls over chartering in the city. The law provides for the establishment of new entities for authorizing, such as universities. Pursuing additional authorizers would allow the existing DC Public Charter Board to stay on its feet, and create alternative innovations for opening and managing new schools.”

Reading this document brings me back to the debate over the future of Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS which this week the DC PCSB voted to begin revocation proceedings against.  It appears that the board is trying to fit this school, which serves those that others have abandoned, into some preconceived standardized model.  Here’s one more paragraph from the CER CEO’s study preface that makes it appear that she was at Monday night’s meeting in which the process was initiated to close the school:

“Charter regulation, approval and oversight should be transparent, predictable, and avoid micro-management of academics, discipline and staff hiring and termination. Regulation should be flexible enough to encourage charter schools designed to meet the needs of special populations by allowing them to meet requirements that are reasonable and appropriate for their students. And yet, it is precisely that regulation that is discouraging new charter school growth. With barely 6 percent of all public school students in charter schools nationwide, two percent growth over one year is totally unacceptable and an indication that something is amiss. Risk-averse, highly bureaucratic state and local actors are causing the stagnation. It comes not just from opponents, but from heavy-handed friends. Their heavy reliance on government to solve perceived issues of quality will bring charter schools to a screeching halt unless the policies they espouse reverse course.”

I hope those over at the DC PCSB are listening.

DC Public Charter Board votes to revoke charter of Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS

At last night’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board the body voted five to two to begin revocation proceedings against the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy PCS.  It has been a long road for this school in reaching this point and my feeling is that this story is far from over.

As you may recall the board first brought up the subject of charter revocation regarding LAYCCA last January as part of its five-year review.  However, due to the challenge to the PCSB’s findings by the school’s legal representative, attorney Stephen Marcus, the PCSB voted to delay its decision to the following month.  Then in February it again postponed a decision on this matter until the March meeting that occurred last evening.

A couple of points here.  I could not attend the session in person yesterday so this morning I tried to watch it online.  However, the video is for some reason only showing small portions of the proceedings.  Also, in the past I could depend on actions of the board being shared on Twitter but this practice seems to have stopped.

In any case, in one of the most carefully documented findings I have ever observed by the PCSB, the board found that “after reviewing all evidence submitted by the school and reassessing each goal using the business rules above, DC PCSB staff has determined that, of its seven academic goals, LAYCCA PCS met one goal, partially met one goal, and did not meet five goals. Based on the school’s failure to meet its goals and student academic achievement expectations, DC PCSB staff recommends that the DC PCSB Board revoke the school’s charter effective June 30, 2017.”  This is little changed from the board’s conclusion in January that the charter partially met two goals and did not meet five.

There are a couple of things that made this scenario different from other votes to shutter a school.  First is the unusual outpouring of strong support for LAYCCA.  Contained in the meeting materials are letters backing the school and making arguments against charter revocation from Maggie Riden, executive director of the DC Alliance of Youth Advocates; Brandon Todd, Ward 4 Councilmember; Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1 Councilmember; and Jack McCarthy, president and CEO of AppleTree Institute for Education Innovation.  There is even one from Mieka Wick, newly named CEO of CityBridge Education, addressing the $50,000 initial planning grant and “suite of supports” of up to $500,000 the school won through the Breakthrough Schools:  DC Challenge.  Ms. Wick writes:

“The LAYC Career Academy proposal was reviewed by our staff and a panel of local and national subject matter experts.  We are excited about the potential of LAYC Career Academy to demonstrate the design principles of personalized learning, intentional equity, and expansive measures of success.”

So here is why I don’t believe we are through talking about the future of LAYCCA.  The PCSB has listed five conditions that the school must meet if the board fails to vote to close it this summer.  Almost all of the deadlines are in April and May of this year.  Therefore, while the revocation process is occurring the school could and should continue to meet these criteria for continuing to operate.

Let’s sincerely hope that a suitable solution can be found for a charter that heroically serves adult students that are disadvantaged by the effects of homelessness, poverty, and incarceration.

Washington Post editors have long history of supporting school choice

Over the weekend the editors of the Washington Post came out once again in favor of re-authorization of the SOAR Act that provides private school vouchers for low-income children in the nation’s capital.  The editorial board has supported school choice plans across the country for decades.  Here’s the background.

In 1999, I decided that I was going to get a school voucher plan approved for Washington, D.C.  The reason for my decision back then originated with my and my wife’s love for this city.  We met here as college students, settled in D.C. when we were first married, and then moved to Reston, Virginia to raise our family.  We knew that Washington would not be a great town unless it had great schools.

But the education system was a complete mess.  Little teaching was actually going on in the classrooms.  The facilities were literally crumbling.  Drugs, weapons, and gang activity was prevalent in the hallways.  As a political libertarian, I understood that only the competition for students would solve the seemingly intractable problems in the schools.  But I also recognized that no one would listen to me.  I needed someone with local credibility to get behind this policy solution.  I settled on the Washington Post’s Colbert King as the person to advance my proposal.  The reason that I selected Mr. King was that I observed from his weekly column that he too was passionate about the success of his hometown, and he  wrote from the perspective that people living in Washington, D.C. should solve their own problems.

It took me months of persuasion but there I was one morning sitting in the editorial boardroom of the Washington Post with Mr. King.  I had brought along with me Darcy Olson, now the CEO of the Goldwater Institute, but at the time the director of family and education policy at the CATO Institute.  We talked about school vouchers for an hour.

At the end of our discussion, during which I found Mr. King to be extremely kind and attentive, the Washington Post columnist explained that he could not get behind the concept.  He stated that he was worried about what would happen to the quality of the education for those who were left behind when others received private school scholarships.  Extremely disappointed, but invigorated by the chance to sit with Mr. King, I left the meeting.

But then something magical happened.  Unsigned editorial after editorial began appearing in the Post arguing in favor of proposals for school choice in various localities.  This was a drastic reversal of the newspaper’s previous viewpoint.  The change was recognized by Clint Bolick in his book Voucher Wars (CATO Institute, 2003).  In writing about the introduction of the nation’s first private school voucher plan in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mr. Bolick  states:

“Ultimately, the Post concluded that because it wouldn’t help many children and was of doubtful constitutional validity, ‘choice is not the answer to the gross inequities that prevail among America’s schools.’  But the editorial conferred a strong and unexpected establishment imprimatur on our effort.  And only a few years later, the Post abandoned its reticence and become one of the nation’s most consistent and influential backers of school choice experiments” (p. 58).

To my amazement I would learn later that Mr. King was writing these pieces.

The Post columnist does not pen these opinions anymore; this job has now been passed on to someone else.  But the tradition strongly continues.  From Saturday’s piece:

“The organization that administers the federal school voucher program in the District has received 1,825 applications this year. The largest share, 25.6 percent or 468 applications, comes from Ward 8, east of the Anacostia River. The smallest, 0.8 percent or 15 families, is from Ward 3 in Northwest. It makes sense that demand is greatest where public schools are worst and families can’t afford private school or are unable to move to where the public schools are better. What doesn’t make sense is the desire — particularly among some D.C. elected officials — to try to kill off this program, thus denying low-income parents a choice that is taken for granted by those who are more affluent.”

Washington Post needs to end coverage of school choice under President Trump

In the old days newspaper reporters used to at least try and be objective in their coverage.  Even if the editorial pages favored one ideological side or the other such as The Wall Street JournalThe Washington Times, The New York Times, and the The Washington Post, the stories attempted to be impartial.  But today the political leanings of the press has spread seemingly by osmosis into articles which are purported to be stating facts.

Since I am a strong advocate of school choice allow me to bring up one example around this issue.  As the Washington Post has been covering efforts in Congress to reauthorize the SOAR Act, almost every story has contained a paragraph identical to the one in this piece by Jenna Portnoy

“A Washington Post review found that most students enrolled in the voucher program attend Catholic schools but hundreds use their voucher dollars to attend schools that are in unconventional settings, such as a family-run K-12 school operating out of a storefront and a Nation of Islam school based in a converted Deanwood residence.”

At least in this instance a quote was included by Michael Musante, the government relations director for FOCUS, indicating that this school has exited the program.  But impossible to locate would be a mention of the high caliber institutions that accept students receiving Opportunity Scholarship Program scholarships such as Archbishop Carroll High School, Georgetown Day School, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, Gonzaga College High School, Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, National Cathedral School, National Presbyterian School, Sidwell Friends School, and St. Albans School.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of visiting a small Catholic school located on Capitol Hill.  St. Peters enrolls Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade students and was awarded the National Blue Ribbon in 2013 by the U.S. Department of Education.  To qualify as a Blue Ribbon School, standardized test scores in reading and in math must be among the top 15 percent nationally.  St. Peters accepts about 10 OSP scholars a year.

Moreover, it appears that the Post’s Emma Brown has been on a mission to discredit any move by President Trump or U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when it comes to education.  Here’s a portion of one of her news stories today that talks about the President’s budgetary proposal to end funding of the 21st Century Community Centers:

“The proposal is one cut among many in a budget that would slash federal education spending by $9 billion, or 13.5 percent, in 2018. Trump aims to eliminate billions for teacher training and scale back or end several programs that help low-income students prepare and pay for college.”

But not once, at anytime, will readers be told that there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution that permits Congress to allocate one dime toward public education.

Here’s more from the same article:

“Trump’s push for choice is also likely to face political headwinds: Democrats almost uniformly oppose vouchers. So do some Republicans. And the president’s proposal to allow $1 billion in federal funds to follow poor children to the public schools of their choice — while thin on details — sounds a lot like a proposal that failed to pass the GOP-led Senate in 2015.”

In the District of Columbia, over 41,000 children, 46 percent of all kids attending public schools, are exercising their privilege to utilize school choice by attending a charter school.  There are an estimated 22,000 more on wait lists to get in.  Ms. Brown may be philosophically opposed to a marketplace in education, or she may want to return to a simpler time when everyone just went to their neighborhood school.  However, school choice is here to stay.  Fortunately for America’s children, especially those that live in poverty, the rest of the country may finally get to experience what D.C. has enjoyed for over two decades.

Spike in applications to open new D.C. charter schools

Yesterday, the D.C. Public Charter School Board announced that it has accepted applications for eight new schools to open in the 2018-to-2019 term.  It has been many years since the board has received this many requests at one time.  For example,  during the last cycle one request was received.  As stated by the board’s press release, the applications include “two elementary schools, two middle schools, a high school, two adult schools and a hybrid high school and adult school.”  One interesting note is that the paperwork proposing the creation of the Adult Career Technical Education PCS lists former D.C. School Board Chairman Robert Bobb as a board member.

The PCSB is holding a public hearing for these applications on April 24th and will vote on them May 22nd.  The board’s Parent and Alumni Leadership Council is hosting a Town Hall to review them on April 11th at 6 p.m.

If the board follows the same pattern it has exhibited for the last two decades, approximately 40 percent of the new applicants will be granted charters.  This equates to three schools.  There are currently 90,454 individuals attending public school in the District of Columbia.  41,502 of these students, or 46 percent, are enrolled in charters, and 48,952, or 54 percent, go to DCPS.  The difference in enrollment between the two sectors is only 7,450 pupils.  The average size of a charter school is 400 kids.  Therefore, the approval of three new facilities will narrow this gap by 1,200 students.

But there are many other seats in the pipeline as the PCSB has been busy approving requests by existing schools to raise enrollment ceilings.  The day is fast approaching when an equal number of children sit in classrooms belonging to a charter compared to those that are in the DCPS system.  In addition, there is another significant change occurring regarding the education landscape in the nation’s capital.

The Opportunity Scholarship Program is about to grow significantly.  Serving Our Children, the new group administering this plan, has its sights set on racing to 3,000 participants, up from the approximately 1,100 scholars that currently receive vouchers.  Just last Friday, the U.S. House of Representative Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved re-authorization of the OSP for another five years, something the Senate and President will also certainly approve.  Eventually, the goal is to make this law permanent.

Charter schools in this city are erasing the achievement gap between rich and poor students; something many thought was an impossible feat.  Now that the OSP will be free from political interference and uncertainty we are on the road to bringing the same benefit to those receiving private school scholarships. 

Then we will finally be able to fulfill the final civil right of the most vulnerable members of our community:  providing a quality education to each and every child that needs one.  I hope that as a society we will have the foresight to record the names of all of the heroes that fought with every bit of their beings to help these young people, children that they may never even have had the chance to meet.

Is Councilman Charles Allen opposed to college financial tuition assistance for D.C. students?

In yesterday’s Washington Post article by

“I don’t think vouchers work, and I don’t think it’s right to take public tax dollars and put them into private religious schools,” he said. “And I think everybody agrees that we should not be having Jason Chaffetz and House Republicans serve as the local school board.”

With this comment it appears that Mr. Allen would also call for an immediate end to the federal DC Tuition Assistance Grant program.  As you may remember, DC TAG provides up to $10,000 to students in the nation’s capital to cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition to public universities across the country.  It also offers up to $2,500 per academic year for attendance at private colleges in the city and at private historically black colleges and universities.  The plan was developed by former local Congressman Tom Davis, who my wife and I helped elect when he first ran for the Virginia 11th District seat as coordinators of his campaign in Reston, Virginia.

Mr. Davis was driven to provide this tuition assistance to D.C. scholars because of the lack of choice of quality public colleges and universities within the District. The money allocated to DC TAG is just slightly more than that provided for the Opportunity Scholarship Program at around $17 million annually.  A primary difference, of course, between DC TAG and the OSP is that the first Congressional grant does not provide equal funding to D.C.’s traditional school system and public charter schools as does the SOAR Act within which the OSP legislation resides.

Mr. Allen emphatically states that he does not want public money to go to private religious institutions.  But among the participants in DC TAG are Catholic and Georgetown Universities, both of which are sectarian.

I know some people accuse politicians of being hypocritical, but this is truly not my desire today.  However, a little consistency is really not too much to ask.  If Mr. Allen is so strongly against providing a private school education, exactly like the one President Obama’s kids have enjoyed to pupils living in poverty, then it is only right that he fight with all his might against DC TAG.