At the May monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, five new schools were approved to begin teaching children during the 2020 to 2021 term. While these nonprofits have reached an important milestone in being given the green light to open, their most difficult challenge still lies ahead. They must now enter the hunt for a facility. As they signup to work toward this goal with Building Hope or TenSquare they will quickly find out, if they have not already been told, that if their aim is to rent commercially available real estate in the nation’s capital they can cross this option off the list. There is nothing available.
Early in the creation of the charter school movement in the District, the charter school facility allotment was created that provides dollars to acquire space based upon the number of students a school enrolls. The facility fund has played a crucial role in helping charters obtain temporary and permanent buildings. But now this fund is outdated since there is nothing left to lease. Imagine the savings that our local government could realize by ending this revenue stream. With 43,911 pupils in charters and a facility allotment that is projected to increase to $3,335 per student next fiscal year, D.C. spends almost $150 million of its budget on this expenditure. The cost could certainly be significantly reduced to a level adequate for charters to cover building operating costs.
Charter schools should have never have been burdened with the task of converting warehouses, offices, storefronts, and churches for use as classrooms. The city has a moral obligation to provide them with sites as they do for other public schools. Charter schools are in fact public schools.
A year ago a letter Mayor Muriel Bowser sent to Senator Ron Johnson indicated that there is over 1.3 million square feet of “vacant or significantly underutilized DC-owned former DCPS facilities.” More recently, in a memorandum from Paul Kihn to PCSB chair Rick Cruz that attempted to freeze the number of charter schools, the Deputy Mayor for Education reported that DCPS is running at 70 percent of capacity on average at its schools. Therefore there is plenty of room for the five new charters. Vacant DCPS properties need to be transferred to the charter sector and other addresses with empty desks must be utilized for co-location.
Charter schools are public schools. It is past time for the Mayor to immediately turn over these excess structures to charters. Ms. Bowser, provide us with the keys. Today.