D.C. Council oversight hearing highlights charter school facility problem

On February 28, 2017 the D.C. Council’s Education Committee held a charter school oversight hearing during which it heard testimony from DC Public Charter School Board chairman Dr. Darren Woodruff.  As part of this exercise, the PCSB was asked a long and detailed series of 72 questions by the Council.  Part of this inquiry has to do with charter school facilities.  The answers were enlightening.

For example, charter schools now occupy 44 buildings that used to house DCPS classrooms.  However, there are another 64 charter school campuses operating in commercial spaces which means that taxpayer dollars are being paid to landlords instead of to the city as would occur if all of these schools leased shuttered traditional schools.   During this academic year two charters are co-located with DCPS.

Besides the 64 campuses that should be in government provided spaces because these are in reality public schools, there are another 13 schools that, since their lease is expiring, or because they have outgrown their property, or simply because the space doesn’t work, need to find new locations.  This gives us a total of 77 charters that should be in District provided sites.  Now comes the kicker.  Please see the response below to the one of the FY2016 Performance Oversight Questions:

“At the same time, there remain at least 10 unoccupied or underutilized city-owned buildings that would be desirable for public charter schools.  By DC PCSB’s estimate there is more than 1.6 million square feet of unused DC-owned buildings that could potentially be occupied by public charter schools.”

It is unfathomable that these buildings are being denied to charters.  Especially in light of the following observation by Dr. Woodruff in his testimony:

“This year, more than 41,000 students attend a public charter school.  And it  is important to emphasize, public charter schools educate a student population that is equally or at times more economically disadvantaged than the city average while outperforming the city averages in PARCC performance and graduating more students.”

I know that it is a Friday before a long holiday weekend.  But perhaps since the Mayor and city council members have returned from their junket in Las Vegas, they can figure out today how to provide our town’s public charter schools with the permanent facilities that they so desperately deserve.

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