Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education released the audited enrollment data for the 2018-to-2019 school year, and for the first time since the charter school movement began teaching its first students in 1998, the percentage of pupils being taught in this sector compared to those enrolled in DCPS declined compared to the previous year. The change is small but the implication is humongous. 47 percent of all public school children in the District of Columbia attend a charter school.
This year 43,958 students have signed up to go to a charter school compared to 43,393 during the 2017-to-2018 school term, representing a one percent increase over the last 12 months. However, DCPS saw its student body increase by two percent, going from 48,144 pupils on the count last October to 49,103 this fall. 92,994 students now attend public school in the nation’s capital, which represents ten years of growth.
The reaction to this news yesterday by Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, may not be the one you would expect. He posted on Twitter:
“For the 10th yr enrollment has increased in public schools but the 1st time the percentage of DC charter school students has gone down. This slight decline reflects our commitment to opening good schools and closing low-performing ones. It’s about quality and choice, not numbers.”
My blood pressure is going up so much right now that I can hardly sit in my chair to write these words. Yes, of course, public education reform is about quality and choice but it is fundamentally about providing each and every child a good education no matter where they live. However, we are so far away from this goal despite the fact that so many of us have been working and fighting and arguing and sweating and giving our hard-earned money to turn this situation around. This is the civil rights struggle that I’m afraid will never be corrected. Not when the leader of our sector states that we don’t have to worry about the numbers.
In 2012, The Illinois Facility Fund estimated that our city was in need of approximately 40,000 quality seats in our schools. Last April, the DC PCSB reported there were 11,317 students on charter wait lists.
I have spoken to so many frustrated parents who cannot get their children into a high-performing school. I have spoken to so many frustrated parents that cannot get their children into a high-performing school. I have spoken to so many frustrated parents that cannot get their children into a high-performing school.
Charters teach their kids but they don’t get the same amount of money that the regular schools receive. The founders have to beg to obtain a building in which teachers can practice their profession. Then, on top of all this, they get to provide information on every detail of their operation to the PCSB.
We have to start over. We need someone, anyone, who will go to bat for these alternative schools that are literally closing the academic achievement gap for the first time in the history of public education. We need to figure out how every child, even if they are poor or black or disabled, can get access to what others have been so fortunate to be able to obtain.