The Washington Post’s education writer Valerie Strauss desperately wants all charter schools closed. Here’s what she wrote in a recent opinion piece:
“There are some wonderful charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately operated, but the sector is rife with scandal, and critics charge that they are harming traditional public schools, which enroll most of America’s children.
What was once billed as a model for the improvement of traditionally governed public schools has become a troubled parallel system of privately managed schools with, in many places, patterns of waste, fraud and segregation.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. Charters are public schools but they are not privately managed. In the District of Columbia each one is a non-profit governed by a board of directors made up of members of the community. The school itself is ultimately held accountable to the DC Public Charter School Board, a public body whose composition of individuals is selected by the Mayor with the advice and consent of the D.C. Council. All of those serving on a school board and the PCSB are unpaid volunteers.
Charter schools are not characterized by “waste, fraud, and segregation.” There have been just two cases of financial irregularities in the 20-year history of our local charters, and in both cases the schools were closed once the problems were identified and criminal charges were brought against those involved.
Today, Ms. Strauss, together with Perry Stein, continues to spread false claims about charters in a news story about The Future Family Enrichment Center, a home where Monument Academy PCS apparently sent three children and Friendship PCS sent one student on a temporary basis while arrangements were being made to meet their special education needs. The Enrichment Center was found not to have a business license. The charter board and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education are now investigating this business. I am confident that after this publicity no charter school will ever again utilize this vendor.
The article again spreads the inaccurate bromide about charters being privately run schools and it adds this one about the PCSB: “The board — which oversees dozens of charter schools in the city — grants schools autonomy to make financial decisions, meaning that contracts schools sign with outside vendors do not need to be approved by the board. “
In the aftermath of the problems around finances that were mentioned earlier the board increased its requirements around procurement contracts. You can read the policy here. In addition, in an tremendous effort to increase transparency around the use of public funds anyone can review the balance sheet and fiduciary health of any one of its institutions. Try dong that with a traditional public school.
But all of this is really besides the point. If you want to have an inspiring day skip work and go visit one of our city’s charter schools. There you will find heroes spending every bit of energy contained in their bodies to take kids living in poverty and close the academic achievement gap. As soon as you walk into one of these buildings the positive energy will make you feel like you have entered one of the most prestigious learning establishments in this country although it may be located in a store front, warehouse, or church basement. These schools are taking children who in the past have ended up in jail or would have been killed, and sending them to college.
Instead of writing highly misleading pieces, Ms. Strauss and Ms. Stein should take a trip to Monument Academy or any one of Friendship’s 13 campuses.