D.C. Deputy Mayor for Education doubles down on illegal holding of excess school facilities

Right before the Christmas holiday the editors of the Washington Post came out swinging against Mayor Bowser’s refusal to turn surplus former DCPS buildings over to charters for use as permanent homes. They wrote:

“’Special interest group.’ That’s how the District’s deputy mayor for education recently characterized those behind a spirited public information campaign urging that more of the city’s buildings be made available for use by worthy public charter schools. At first, we thought the description derisive but, upon further thought, we decided Paul Kihn was right.

The interests being advanced by this effort are indeed quite special. They are those of the nearly 44,000 children — most of them black or Hispanic, and many of them economically disadvantaged — who are enrolled in public charter schools, and the thousands more who languish on waiting lists because of a lack of facilities. The administration’s churlish response to this problem is troubling, another sign it doesn’t have the same sense of obligation to public charter school students as it does to those enrolled in the traditional school system.”

The column appears to have had an impact on Paul Kihn, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Education, but not the one intended by charter advocates. Just before the start of the New Year, Mr. Kihn responded to the Post in a series of five tweets entered in rapid succession:

“Disappointed to again see false claims promoted by @PostOpinions. Readers should also be surprised that misleading information about school waitlists and facilities made its way onto the @WashingtonPost editorial page.”

“Must focus on unique students & not combine multiple schools’ waitlist. Students often waitlisted at multiple schools. In SY19-20, because duplicates, total waitlist of 33,876 (K-12) reduced to 10,891 individual students at DCPS & charters.”

“Waitlist numbers inflate demand. Approx. 25K applications in SY18-19, 84% received matches/offers, 57% accepted offers and 43% declined.”

@mayorbowser admin. works tirelessly & impartially for students in both the traditional & public charter sector. Pace of improving outcomes in DC’s two-sector system is leading the nation. #DCProud of this progress & know there’s more to do”

“DC continues to invest in students, including the annual increase of funds for buildings in both sectors. Suggesting otherwise ignores our values, actions and ongoing support for ALL of DC’s public school students in both sectors. #FairShot

But all of these words evades the main point in a wholly dishonest manner. There are structures that currently exist out there, likely as many as 13, that by statute should have been turned over to charters for use as classrooms. Another six have already been given away for other purposes. These surplus properties are rotting away instead of being filled to the brim with the laughter, excitement, and learning of children.

There can only be one explanation for what is going on here and it was perfectly captured by the Washington Post editors:

“No doubt assessments can differ of what may be available, and there may be reasons for the city, with school system enrollment increasing, to hold on to some schools. But only once in Ms. Bowser’s nearly five-year tenure has she proposed a lease of a city building to a charter. Some buildings stand empty and in disrepair even as top-ranked charters scramble for space. It makes no sense — unless, of course, the aim is to hinder the growth of charters, which now account for 46 percent of D.C. public school enrollment.”

The charter school facility issue is not getting off to a good start in 2020.

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