D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn recently released a report entitled “Citywide Landscape of Former DCPS Facilities Remaining in Educational Use or Government Owned” which is a clear attempt to blunt the attack on Mayor Bowser’s administration regarding the withholding of more than 1 million square feet of surplus DCPS space that by law must be turned over to use by charter schools. The criticism is the recent focus of the DC Association of Chartered Public School’s End The List campaign and the Open the Doors of Opportunity effort led by the Center for Education Reform.
The DME’s publication is highly misleading. It claims that there are only three schools, for a total of 385,000 square feet, that are currently empty and “undergoing DCPS programmatic review.” The document states that these buildings have not been deemed “excess” according to D.C. law. The former traditional schools are Langston, closed in the mid-1990s; Spingarn High School, shuttered in 2012; and the Winston Education Campus, also closed in 2012. If these schools cannot be classified as excess, then I do not understand what structures will ever land in this category.
The report lists seven schools that have been turned over to entities for other purposes. There are another 16 buildings classified as being occupied by District agencies. One of these is Ferebee-Hope that is being offered to charters through a request for proposal.
Strangely missing from the schools listed in the addendum to the government’s study are Hine and Randall, two of the five former DCPS sites that Ms. Bowser turned over to private developers.
We also do not see any data on the DCPS schools that are operating with significant under-enrollment that could be used for charter school co-locations.
There is only one overriding theme that one comes away with after reviewing this material. If Muriel Bowser wanted to, she could provide a permanent facility for every charter school that needed one. Instead, after 20 years, charters are still struggling to identify adequate space in which to operate. The search is a major distraction from the mission of educating children, and is a significant contributor to the continuing presence of an academic achievement gap in our city that is currently at about 65 points. It is the largest one in the nation.
It appears crystal clear now that there is only going to be one way to ensure that empty DCPS structures are turned over to charters. This will be through the courts. Who will have the guts to take up this challenge?