Things just don’t appear to be going well this year for the DC Public Charter School Board. It started 2017 with a debate over whether to begin charter revocation proceedings against the Latin American Youth Center Career Academy. The move resulted in the school hiring attorney Stephen Marcus, the same lawyer handling the FOCUS coordinated lawsuit against the city regarding inequitable funding of charters compared to the traditional school sector. In March, the board did vote to proceed only to reverse course over an aggravatingly long five months and decide that conditionally the school that bravely serves severely disadvantaged adults can continue to operate.
At the same time that this was going on, Mayor Bowser surprised the charter sector by introducing a plan for a walkability preference for student admission. The idea represents the first step in satisfying Ms. Bowser’s notion that charters should look more like DCPS in giving a first right of refusal to access to classrooms to those students living closest to these facilities. Despite the fact that this suggestion flies in the face of the main component of charter schools, namely school choice, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the PCSB, called the idea an “interesting enrollment proposal that addresses real issues families face.” So far no final determination has been reached.
Moving on to February, the teachers at Paul PCS sought to unionize, which would have made the school the first charter in D.C. to take this step. Across the country only 10 percent of charters have union representation of teachers. The activity came 60 days after an article by Mr. Pearson suggesting that charters could benefit from a union presence. The leadership of Paul fought back, and a vote to join a group affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers went down in defeat but not before the school’s executive director of ten years, Jami Dunham, decided to retire. The union, however, did not give up trying to get a foothold in our city, and just this month the teachers at Cesar Chavez PCS’s Prep campus decided to become part of the AFT.
In March, the State Board of Education approved an education plan for the District of Columbia as part of the national Every Student Succeeds Act that ranks all of our city’s public schools under the same accountability system administered by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. This came as a huge surprise to those of us used to seeing charters graded under the PCSB’s Performance Management Framework tool. The PCSB’s executive director issued a statement supporting the uniform assessment of schools; the Center for Education Reform has a different opinion.
In April, it was announced by the PCSB that D.C. charter school student wait lists has risent to nearly 10,000 students.
Finally, there was the debacle around DC Prep’s request to open new middle school and elementary school campuses. Despite being assured by the PCSB staff that the vote was only a formality, the charter faced an onslaught of criticism over its above average out-of-school suspension rates. The additional campuses were defeated, which resulted in the former executive director of FOCUS Robert Cane calling out the board for taking an action not authorized under the School Reform Act during his acceptance speech after being inducted into the organization’s Hall of Fame. Six weeks from its original vote, the PCSB changed its mind and is letting DC Prep go ahead with its expansion plans.
On a positive note, three new charter were given the green light to open during the 2018 to 2019 school year. Eight schools originally applied.