The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reports today that in a couple of weeks Excel Academy Public School will reopen as part of DCPS after the decision was made last January by the DC Public Charter School Board to close the school this past June. Remember that both KIPP DC and Friendship PCS were interested in taking over this institution but the leadership of Excel decided that it would rather have it join the traditional school system.
During the 2017-to-2018 school year the all-girls Excel enrolled approximately 643 students in grades pre-Kindergarten three to eight. So far about 300 students have signed up to attend the new school, which represents a decline of 53 percent. It will apparently stay in the building that housed Excel as a charter. Ms. Stein writes:
“The first day of school is in two weeks, and the staff at Excel Academy in Southeast Washington needs to make sure everything is just right. Teachers crammed preschool classrooms with colorful books, plush seating and games. Maintenance workers tidied the school garden, pruning the sunflowers and picking the ripe vegetables.”
According to PCSB records, last term Excel had total occupancy expenses of $2,125,421 that included $2,061,316 in rent. It used a facility allotment of $2,234,910 to cover the lease, providing the school with about a $110,000 surplus in this cost category.
The bottom line is that with enrollment dropping by more than half, a charter school would never be able to afford to stay in the same facility. The only choice a charter would have would be to subsidize the lease with the per pupil dollars provided to administer the school, which in this case would be so large a number that this would prove impossible. Teacher and other staff salaries could never be met under this scenario. As a matter of fact, with this much of a reduction in the size of the student body, I’m sure that the per pupil dollars for instruction under DCPS do not cover personnel costs. Therefore, the only option that this school would have is to close.
The reason that all of this financial analysis is critically important is that market forces have been relied upon for more than 20 years in the nation’s capital to drive improvement in public education. Since the first charter opened here money has followed the child. It was the mass exodus of families from DCPS that finally put sufficient fiscal pressure on the system to improve. Now, with the incorporation of Excel into DCPS with simultaneous subsidy of the rent expense, we are seeing a distortion of the market which will end up harming our kids.
Excel was an extremely low academically performing school when it was a charter. That’s why it was shuttered by the PCSB. Allowing this school to continue to operate while running a substantial financial deficit works directly against the concept of school choice created by economist Milton Friedman. He stated that when revenue became linked to enrollment good schools would prosper and grow while poor ones would run out of dollars and close. With the acceptance of Excel as a regular school, DCPS is harming the cause.