D.C.’s charter school facility problem has reached the crisis phase

Yesterday, WTOP’s Rachel Nania chronicled the recent facility woes of Eagle Academy PCS as it tried to find a new location after being informed that its Capitol Riverfront campus would be turned into condominiums. According to Joe Smith, Eagle’s CEO/CFO:

“We tried for several years to find a location here in Ward 6, but all of that had been purchased by developers on speculation, so that even when we looked at a bare strip of land or a building we could knock down, somebody else had already bought it.”

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the impact of the facility hunt has on the quality of academics at charters. In 2018, Eagle Academy’s Capitol Riverfront campus went from Tier 1 the year before to Tier 2 on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework tool. The impact was even greater on its Congress Heights location, which saw a drop from Tier 2 in 2017 to Tier 3. The amount of time and energy spent on trying to secure a permanent location cannot be underestimated.

Last week, Mr. Smith was given a one year extension for the school at its current location. But this only delays the problem for another 12 months. Ms. Nania quotes Building Hope’s Dominique Fortune as commenting about D.C.’s charter schools, “They’re not going to be able to afford to stay in the space that they’re in, but there isn’t really an alternative or any place for them to go.”

Another associate at Building Hope perfectly captures the issues now facing charters in trying to find space in Washington, D.C.’s hot commercial real estate market. Remarked Jerry Zayets, “So essentially, you need to convince someone that, ‘Hey, I’m going to put a tenant in the building that’s going to be loud, and there’s going to be noise and traffic and pickups and drop-offs. Oh, and I’m also going to pay you $12 less (per square foot) than market rent.’ That’s not a compelling argument to a commercial landlord.”

So with renting space in a commercial building out of the question, the only alternative is to set up shop in a surplus DCPS facility. But this too is not an option. Since Mayor Bowser came into office in January 2015, no former DCPS buildings have been awarded to charter schools. At least ten properties currently stand empty. Many more current DCPS classroom spaces are severely underutilized.

It looks like the anti-charter people may get what they want after all. There is now an effective moratorium on charter schools expansion in the nation’s capital for one reason only. There is no place for them to go.

Is there no one out there that can help?

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