1,700 charter school students may need to find new classrooms next term

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein claimed yesterday that approximately 1,700 students attending charters will have to find new schools to attend for the 2019-to-2020 term. The number is the product of the decision announced a couple of days ago by the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy to shutter two of its campuses and actions by the DC Public Charter School Board to close City Arts and Prep PCS, Democracy Prep PCS, and National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS. This news comes in the wake of charter school enrollment in the 2018-to-2019 school year dropping a percentage point compared to those attending DCPS. The decrease is a first in the over twenty year history of charters in the nation’s capital.

As a reminder, here is the reaction of Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC PCSB, to the demographic shift:

“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.”

I agree with the charter board’s emphasis on quality.  Moreover, while the decisions by the board may not be purely about numbers, this assessment may at the same time not be completely accurate. Recently, Lenora Robinson-Mills, the PCSB’s chief operating officer, wrote a heart-felt article about her own feelings about charter revocation in which she compared the action to the death of a family member. She opined:

“We’re working internally now to figure out how to provide better support sooner to families affected by the closing of their school, but it’s difficult to navigate the school’s right to due process. Maybe the answer is a lottery preference or lottery bypass for students attending closing schools? Perhaps it’s more and better communication with families before the final decision gets made so that they can take action sooner? Maybe it’s having someone at DC PCSB who can be the life-saving surgeon in my presenter’s death analogy. But that’s outside the role of the authorizer… “

My question today is if the PCSB could provide services that could help turnaround a school, would that really be considered outside the role of the authorizer? After all, the mission of the board “is to provide quality public school options for DC students, families, and communities. ” Is the board actually fulfilling its stated mission if it is authorizing new schools, allowing good schools to grow and replicate, and closing those that are under performing? What about helping those that are in need of assistance before getting to the point of terminating their operations?

With 1,7000 scholars now looking for new places to learn, perhaps we need a different answer to my last question.

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