Federal money for charter schools is unconstitutional (except in D.C.)

I have read the outcry over the suggested new rules to three components of the United States Department of Education’s Charter School Program. I have seen the protests over them by parents and students at the DOE headquarters and the White House organized by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The language contained in this proposal will almost certainly cut off $440 million annually for charter school openings and expansion. While there is no greater charter school proponent then me, I’m not sad to see the money go.

The charter school movement prides itself in advancing the academic achievement of students, many of whom were failing in traditional public schools. To be consistent with this mission our sector must be sure that is teaching civics in a highly accurate fashion. Here’s where the problem comes in. The United States Constitution’s Article 1 Section 8 delineates the powers of Congress. Support in the way of revenue for public education is no where mentioned.

I know what you are saying: “Mark, Congress has for decades exceeded its authority under the Constitution.” This statement is true, however, it does not make appropriating funds to charter schools the allowable thing to do. Through our pedagogy we impart values to our students. The difference between right and wrong is one of the best lessons that we can teach.

I am also concerned that taking money from the federal government introduces politics into the authorization process. This is exactly what we have seen take place here. The New York Times last Friday ran an exceptionally balanced piece about the new rules written by Erica Green. To understand the motives behind the teachers’ unions anti-charter efforts all you have to know, as Ms. Green points out in her article, is that Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, started a tweet on the subject of these rules with the hashtag #CharterSchoolsFalling. President Joe Biden is a tremendous union supporter.

Yes, it is still a war out there between charter and traditional school supportors. As charter advocates we should never let down our guard. The best way to see our model flourish and grow is to seek support from outside the federal government. I’m sure Elon Musk, Tim Cook, and Jeff Bezos have incentives to see the United States produce well-educated children. As I pointed out in a previous column, Michael Bloomberg has already set a strong example in this regard.

Finally, just to be perfectly accurate, it is fine for the federal government to authorize revenue for charter schools in the District. That is because our Constitution gives Congress power “to exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District.” It is stated right there in Section 8. 

D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson breaks law when it comes to at-risk student funding; move applauded by DC Charter School Alliance

A few days ago, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed a move by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to increase the amount of money going to at-risk students as part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. Here’s the background:

The reporter states that at-risk students are “those who are homeless or in foster care, whose families qualify for food stamps, and students who are in high school and have been held back at least one year,” and they “account for about 47 percent of the city’s more than 95,000 public school children.” Ms. Stein adds that “The funding in the regular education budget for at-risk students amounts to an extra $3,000 each and is intended to alleviate the effects of poverty, which can make learning more challenging. The money could be used to pay for extra reading specialists, music teachers, or extended day programs.”

There have been calls by others, such as the organization DC Students Succeed, to increase the weight in revenue that schools receive for instructing at-risk students through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. It is the UPSFF that provides the extra $3,000 per pupil that Ms. Stein references. Mr. Mendelson took a different strategy. Again from the Washington Post article on this issue:

“The funding proposal — which the council must approve a second time as part of the city’s overall budget process — would spread an additional $41.6 million over four years across nearly 170 traditional public and charter schools. Unlike most targeted education funds, the money would bypass the school system’s central office and go directly to principals, giving them control over how to spend money on staff and services that could improve student outcomes.”

Ms. Stein explains how it would work:

“Mendelson’s proposal would give extra funding to schools that have a population of at-risk students that exceeds 40 percent. Schools that have populations of at-risk students that exceed 70 percent would receive even more. For example, Savoy Elementary has 265 students. Of those, 225 — or nearly 85 percent — are considered at risk.

In all, the school would receive more than $98,000 under the proposal. That’s on top of the approximately $3,000 each of the 225 at-risk student is allocated through the typical budget process.”

Mr. Mendelson is trying to address an issue that has plagued the traditional public school system. According to Ms. Stein:

“But numerous investigations and reports have determined that the city often spends this money incorrectly, using it to pay for routine costs instead of on programs to supplement basic school offerings. In some instances, that’s because many schools with high concentrations of at-risk students are under-enrolled and smaller schools are more expensive to operate. These schools’ budgets don’t stretch as far as the budgets for larger schools, so principals end up spending the money on basic staffing that other schools can cover with their baseline budgets.”

Here’s the problem. The 1995 D.C. School Reform Act that created charter schools in the District mandates that funding for all public school students go through the UPSFF. Here’s a summary of the law included in the Adequacy Study completed in 2013:

“The requirement that education for all students be funded on a uniform per-student basis, with the dollars following students into and out of whatever school they attend, was enacted into DC law in 1995. The UPSFF was established to carry out the mandate. The formula calculates funding based on students and their characteristics, not on school or local educational agency (LEA) differences. This uniformity requirement applies only to local funding, not to federal or private funding. It affects only DCPS and public charter school operating budgets, not capital budgets and investments. The UPSFF is intended to fund all traditional school-level and system level operations for which DCPS and public charter schools are responsible, including instructional, non instructional (facilities maintenance and operations), and administrative operations.”

Ms. Perry states in her article that Chairman Mendelson referred to his at-risk student funding proposal “the ‘single most important’ new idea in the fiscal year 2023 budget.” The only problem, however, is that the move is illegal in that it directly contradicts the language contained in the School Reform Act.

But breaking the law is obviously not important to the DC Charter School Alliance as long as it involves more money to its schools. The organization tweeted “Thank you @ChmnMendelson & @councilofdc for supporting students with an increase in funding for education! . . .Creating two new concentration weights to support schools serving higher populations of students designated at-risk”

I noticed that the Council also appropriated $300,000 to perform a new Adequacy Study, which is something I called for the other day. Perhaps this new report will call out the serious error Mr. Mendelson made in his effort to help at-risk students.

Time for a new D.C. schools Adequacy Study

The other day I read a statement by Shannon Hodge, executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, calling for the Deputy Mayor for Education to complete a revised Adequacy Study. I could not agree more.

The last one was released in 2013 and it was groundbreaking. The research behind the report demonstrated that the District of Columbia was shy 40,000 quality seats, and it mapped the locations were new high performing classrooms were needed. But the most astonishing part of the work, lead by then Mayor Vincent Gray and my favorite Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, was that it put into print for the first time by the government the fact that charter schools were receiving inequitable funding compared to DCPS. The document pointed out that this was true because although all schools, charters and traditional, were funded at the same level through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, DCPS took advantage for free of government services, such as legal, information technology, and building maintenance, that charters could not access. It was a line of reasoning advanced for years and at every opportunity by Robert Cane, the prior head of Friends for Choice in Urban Schools. Mary Levy went on to quantify this disparity to be about $100 thousand to $125 thousand dollars a year.

The blatant unfairness continues unabated today and led to Eagle Academy PCS, Washington Latin PCS, when I was chair of its board, and the DC Association of Chartered Public School to sue the city to try and recover the revenue; a legal action that was eventually dismissed. Attorney Stephen Marcus led the effort. It was not something that charters wanted to do; we believed we had no other choice.

In addition, the 2013 study was extremely comprehensive in nature in that it tried to figure out exactly what the funding level of the UPSFF should be to eliminate the academic achievement gap in our town. It looked at each component of the per pupil allotment, including the much discussed weight for teaching at-risk students.

A lot has changed over nine years and much has not. The amount of tax revenue going to the two education sectors has gone up tremendously, now projected to exceed in fiscal year 2023 2.2 billion dollars annually. However, with this cash has not come the solution to the inequity that all of us involved in education want desperately to solve. When we do get around to testing our children it is almost certain, especially after two years of pandemic learning, that the difference in proficiency between the affluent and poor of 60 points has only increased.

It is imperative to perform another adequacy study. Let’s determine what the proper UPSFF should be. We should uncover how many quality seats the District needs to provide each and every scholar an exceptional pedagogical experience. How will we react if the number comes back again at 40,000?

DC Charter School Alliance names Hall of Fame members: where is Patricia Brantley?

As part of Charter School Week, over the past few days the DC Charter School Alliance has been announcing additions to the Charter School Hall of Fame. First created by Friends of Choice In Urban Schools back in 2016, the Hall of Fame was formed “to recognize the key individuals whose contributions have helped shape DC’s thriving charter sector.” If ever there was someone that needed to be added to this esteemed group it is Patricia Brantley, the chief executive officer of Friendship PCS. Here are just a few sentences from Ms. Brantley’s biography on the Friendship website:

“Patricia oversees all operations at Friendship, has secured more $95 million in public and private funding, effected cohesion among the 12 campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development. She spearheaded the takeover of Washington’s first multi-campus charter management group, ensuring that hundreds of children could remain in their school of choice.”

Ms. Brantley moved up to CEO at Friendship after serving as its chief operating officer. Here’s what I wrote about that tenure when I interviewed her six years ago:

“Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.”

As I have watched her work, I see Ms. Brantley as a savior to D.C.’s charter school movement. When charters get in trouble and are fighting for their existence, Ms. Brantley comes to their rescue, like a superhero swooping in at the last minute to challenge evil. It started with the takeover at Community Academy PCS, proceeded to Ideal PCS, and most recently expanding Friendship’s online school to medically fragile students desperately needing a virtual option. When the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (City Arts and Prep PCS) was closed by the DC Public Charter School Board, she brought its program into Armstrong PCS. After multiple safety issues came to light at Monument Academy PCS, and it appeared that the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital would literally lose their homes, she engineered a takeover by the Friendship Foundation. Finally, after the PCSB could not see past fear from Mayor Muriel Bowser to open Capital Experience Lab, a new middle and high school charter, Ms. Brantley brought the exciting pedagogical approach to learning into Blow Pierce PCS. She had been serving on its board of directors. Ms. Brantley sets the blazing example of what true leadership looks like.

Actually, when the DC Charter School Alliance started to announce their inductees into the Charter School Hall of Fame, Ms. Brantley’s name should have been first.

D.C. charters about to spend 25K per pupil; they want more

In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. As she has done consistently during her tenure as the city’s chief administrator, Ms. Bowser has increased the Uniform Per Student Funding formula, the baseline that determines how much a school is paid to educate a child for a year, this time by a gigantic 5.87 percent. Her recommendations also include a 2.2 percent jump in the charter school facility allotment. With these augmentations, assuming that the same number of students enroll next term as did in 2022, then the amount that the District spends on teaching one student each term enrolled in a charter school is approximately $24,500. According to the Education Data Initiative, in this country only New York State, at $25,500 per student, spends more.

An organization called DC Students Succeed, a group of over forty groups that work with children, including many charter schools and the DC Charter School Alliance, say the Mayor has not gone far enough. They have a number of recommendations. They call on the Council to add more cash to the UPSFF. The per pupil facility allotment should go up by 3.1 percent. They also want the at-risk weight to improve to 0.37, a number included in the 2013 Adequacy Study, as opposed to the 0.2 number advanced by the Mayor. By the way, the coalition views the term “at-risk” as “pejorative, inaccurate, and inadequate.” They would rather it be changed to “equity weight.”

But wait, there is more. Some schools lack mental health clinicians. A new citywide center is needed for immigrant students so they can navigate our public education system. Increased funding should be allocated for training Black and brown professionals to go into teaching. A program should be created to reduce teacher student loan debt. Initiate a Homeowner Resource Center to steer educators toward affordable housing programs. Form a Public Educator Housing Assistance Program similar to the existing District Employer Assisted Housing Program. Add money to Out-of-School programs to the tune of $25 million. The list is frankly exhausting. You can read the fifteen page details of the requests here.

The calls for more money comes as The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is running television advertisements attacking the U.S. Education Department’s proposed new rules around its charter school support programs. Commented president and CEO Nina Rees, about the move, “This is a sneak attack on charter schools that is politically motivated by special interests seeking to benefit the adults in the system and not the children and families in our country who are clamoring for better education opportunities. Why is the Biden Administration listening to everyone except families?”

If these stipulations are enacted I have no doubt that they will severely limit if not completely block charters from accessing the $440 million annually appropriated by Congress toward new school openings and expansion. However, the commercials make it appear that somehow our movement is entitled to these grants. I would much rather see alternatives to the federal government for financial support. When dependent on the government it is simply too easy for politics to get in the way, which is exactly what we are seeing in this case. The conversation around charters really needs to be focused on improving the quality of public education. With all this talk about money, it appears that the box that the child is standing on to watch the baseball game in the infamous equity cartoon is filled with dollar bills.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg donates $200 million to charter schools

A couple of days ago Cayla Bamberger of the New York Post revealed that former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg granted two charter networks, Success Academy PCS and Harlem Children’s Zone PCS, $100 million each in order to help them grow to accept more students. The money is only the beginning of Mr. Bloomberg’s investment in these alternative schools. His goal is to spend $750 million nationwide. The former Mayor told the Post:

“I don’t know that 30 years from now, when they don’t have the kind of life that we’d want for them you can explain to them what happened and why we were asleep at the switch.”

My point exactly. The pandemic has created a magnificent opportunity for charters. I do not understand why pro-charter organizations are not buying up vacant office buildings to house schools. I’m sure there are great deals to be had in the current marketplace. Is there no one in D.C. who will be embarrassed in 30 years that they did not act when they had the chance?

The DC Public Charter School is currently on a year-long pause for considering new schools and the expansion on existing ones. This needs to end now with the result being that it is simpler for new charters to open and easier to add more seats for those that are already operating.

I found interesting that the Washington Post’s Perry Stein found the need in her recent story about D.C. middle schools to talk about Mayor Bowser’s view of the expansion of the charter sector. The reporter wrote:

“While charter schools are independent, the mayor can have a role in shaping the sector and the Bowser administration has been considered charter-friendly. Bowser appoints the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which authorizes which charter schools can open and which must close for low-performance. She said she speaks with all her appointees about the need to approve only charters that address an unmet need in the city.”

Ms. Stein contradicts herself. She claims that charters are independent yet simultaneously points out that they are overseen by the PCSB whose members are selected by the Mayor. But this is slightly off topic. I just love the quote that Ms. Stein includes in the article from past charter board chair Rick Cruz regarding the growth of charters while many DCPS school are under enrolled.

“It means little to us and even less to many D.C. families to hear that there are thousands of seats in many schools that boast poor academic results.”

Right on! It is now time to wake up from our Covid-19 lull. Come on Mr. Bloomberg, District charters are ready to accept your cash. Who else is out there that wants to pitch in?

Shantelle Wright joining D.C. Public Charter School Board

Charter school watchers in the nation’s capital have been puzzled by the lack of nominations to the DC Public Charter School Board by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The board is down to three out of seven members, with Rick Cruz’s term coming to an end. Well, it appears that the six-month wait for names to be announced is finally over. The board revealed the other day that there are three people up for D.C. Council confirmation.

The most shocking individual on the list is none other than Shantelle Wright. Ms. Wright is of course well known to the local movement. She is the founder and previously long-term chief executive officer of Achievement Prep PCS. During her tenure at Achievement Prep, it was common for Ms. Wright to offer highly emotionally charged comments critical of the PCSB, especially in regard to the views of former executive director Scott Pearson. She has been part of a segment of charter school stakeholders, best represented by attorney Stephen Marcus, that believe that the Performance Management Framework which is used to grade charters in Washington, D.C., is biased against at-risk children. Achievement Prep serves a large proportion of students living in poverty.

However, as I reported in April, 2018, at an event marking the first ten years of operation of Achievement Prep, Ms. Wright seemed to have a change of heart. Here are my observations:

“In her speech, Ms. Wright admitted that mistakes at the school had been made and that most recently it has not been serving the children of Ward 8 according to its mission ‘to prepare students to excel as high-achieving scholars and leaders in high school, college, and beyond.’  She explained that Achievement Prep had grown too fast, an expansion that has resulted in the school’s Wahler Place elementary, serving pupils in pre-Kindergarten three to third grade, being ranked Tier 3 school on the DC PCSB’s Performance Management Framework for the last two years. Its Wahler Place Middle school, enrolling grades four through eight, has earned a grade as barely a Tier 2 facility over the same time period.  In 2013 and 2014 this campus’ quality school report placed it at Tier 1.  During the November meeting of the DC PCSB, the elementary school campus was given strict PMF targets it will have to meet in coming years or it will be closed.”

Achievement Prep closed the Wahler Place Middle School at the end of the 2019-to-2020 school year. This facility was taken over by Friendship PCS.

During the same ceremony, Mr. Pearson expressed his admiration for Ms. Wright:

“In comments that were especially animated for my friend, he related that during the many tense confrontations he has had with her over the years regarding differences of opinion, he has always loved the persona of Ms. Wright.”

It will be fascinating to see the direction that the PMF takes with Ms. Wright on the board. The DC PCSB has announced that the PMF is in the process of being revised.

Others nominated to the board include Shukurat Adamoh-Faniyan, who was once executive director of the now shuttered Democracy Prep PCS and who is now executive director of Reading Partners, a group working to increase literacy, and Nick Rodriquez, CEO at Delivery Associates who once served on the California Board of Education. Both individuals have extensive experience trying to close the academic achievement gap and therefore will be easily approved by the Council. Current PCSB chair Lea Crusey has also been re-nominated.

You can read current PCSB executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis’s testimony in favor of these nominations here. I now cannot wait to once again tune into the monthly PCSB meetings. I promise, they will not be boring.

Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary Campus’s Dominique Foster is D.C.’s Teacher of the Year

I received the following press release yesterday from Patricia Brantley, Chief Executive Officer Friendship Public Charter School:

Washington, DC) – Today, Mayor Muriel Bowser presented Dominique Foster, a pre-K teacher at Friendship Public Charter School (PCS) – Blow Pierce Elementary with the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year Award. The Mayor was joined by Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant and Friendship PCS Blow Pierce Elementary students and staff to surprise Ms. Foster with the award. The prestigious honor, which comes with a $7,500 prize, is awarded annually to a DC Public School or public charter school teacher who has demonstrated outstanding leadership and commitment to student achievement.


“Washington, DC has the strongest universal pre-K program in the nation, and it’s because of creative and passionate teachers like Ms. Foster who help our young people become curious learners,” said Mayor Bowser. “Thank you, Ms. Foster, for all you have done for your students and school community. Now, we’ll be cheering you on for 2022 National Teacher of the Year!”


In addition to receiving this honor, Foster is now in the running for the National Teacher of the Year Award<https://ntoy.ccsso.org/>, which is run by the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). She will also receive an additional $2,500 to support travel to national conferences, workshops, and other professional development opportunities during her one-year term as 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.


“Throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency, Ms. Foster provided a high level of instruction and robust educational experiences during distance learning. When field trips weren’t possible, she brought the community to her virtual classroom, inviting special guests to share their lives and experiences with her young learners,” said Acting State Superintendent Christina Grant. “It’s so important that we honor teachers like Ms. Foster who go above and beyond their call of duty. Congratulations, Ms. Foster, for the well-deserved honor of being named 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) also awarded $1,500 to two other 2022 DC Teacher of the Year finalists: Dr. Takeisha Wilson, a fourth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher at Shepherd Elementary School, and Rickita Perry Taylor, who teaches medically fragile students and students with profound disabilities in grades K-2 at Turner Elementary School.


Foster has been teaching for 13 years, six of which have been at Friendship PCS Blow Pierce. She earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communication from Xavier University and is currently working on a master’s degree in Montessori Education at Xavier. She has extensive training and experience in Montessori, Reggio Emilia, International Baccalaureate and Creative Curriculum approaches to learning and pulls from each to create an engaging and inclusive classroom learning environment for children of all backgrounds.


Foster began her career at Howard Road Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8, and has held kindergarten teaching positions during the school year and summer at two other Friendship PCS campuses: Woodridge International Campus and Southeast Campus. Foster also supports developing and maintaining a positive school climate through several Friendship PCS leadership roles, including a new educator mentoring program, the annual Friendship Blow Pierce Women’s Expo, a yoga instruction program, and tutoring for young learners and the school’s Early Childhood Graduation program.


“I enthusiastically congratulate Dominique Foster on this accomplishment,” said DC Public Charter School Executive Director Michelle J. Walker-Davis. “Ms. Foster makes learning an experience and believes her students, no matter how young, should have choice and voice in their learning environment. She lives and teaches by that philosophy every day which she is why she is the 2022 DC Teacher of the Year.”


Foster also has participated on committees and teams focused on the charter network’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including virtual learning and the school’s reopening plan. She considers the virtual learning experience during the 2020-21 school year one of the highlights of her teaching career. While she initially considered teaching Pre-K students through a computer screen a “formidable task,” Foster said the experience quickly evolved into “a life-changing experience we, as a class community, will cherish forever.”


This inclusive class community, Foster noted, involved parents, siblings and even neighbors who offered support, guidance, and encouragement during distance learning lessons that combined hands-on learning, family involvement and real-world connections to engage students of all backgrounds and abilities.


“Family involvement allowed learning to extend beyond the virtual classroom, as parents became active participants and even co-teachers in the daily lessons. Time spent in the virtual classroom space was limited but maximized, as each lesson and activity allowed for cross-curriculum integration,” Foster explained in her DC Teacher of the Year application. “My belief in making learning an experience transcended the traditional classroom setting and we discovered how to bring joy into learning on a virtual platform.”


For more information on the DC Teacher of the Year program, visit the OSSE website<https://osse.dc.gov/service/district-columbia-teacher-year>.

https://www.localdvm.com/news/washington-dc/2022-dc-teacher-of-the-year-announced-during-surprise-celebration/

It’s time for an independent Office of the State Superintendent in the nation’s capital

There are two bills being debated currently in the D.C. Council regarding the reporting structure for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in the District of Columbia. One suggestion is to have OSSE fall under the purview of the State Board of Education. This legislation should be dead on arrival since it reminds me of the terrible old days when the Board of Education contributed to our town having one of the worst run school systems in the country. No one wants to go back to those days.

However, the second proposal, authored by Councilmember Mary Cheh, comes out of more recent controversies around DCPS that arose four years ago. Beginning in November 2017, the traditional schools faced a trio of problems that came in quick succession. First, a study by WAMU and NPR found that many seniors attending Ballou High School should never have graduated. From their report:

“An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. WAMU and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a DCPS employee shared the private documents. The documents showed that half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school. . . Another internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows that two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation requirements, community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate.”

Then in February 2018, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned after the D.C. inspector general had found that with Ms. Niles’ assistance one of Mr. Wilson’s children had bypassed the school lottery to gain admission to Wilson High School. She had been enrolled at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts but was not happy there.

That same month the Washington Post reported that OSSE had discovered that as many of half of the students attending the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts lived outside of D.C. but were claimed to be residents so the families would not have to pay tuition. The story stated that a lawyer at OSSE told officials in his organization to slow the fraud investigation “because of the risk of negative publicity during a mayoral election year.”

These incidents point to the problem of having OSSE report to the Mayor who also controls the traditional public schools. As Ms. Cheh indicates in her proposed legislation:

“However, in 2007, with the passage of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (“PERAA”), the SEO became the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, a change that came with much greater responsibility. OSSE took over a
number of responsibilities previously handled by the Board, including developing state-level standards and assessments, grantmaking, and, importantly, oversight of the District’s public schools. In addition, under PERAA, control of DCPS shifted from the Board of Education to the Mayor. For the first time, the District’s state level oversight body and its public school system were subordinate to the same person—the Mayor.

For this reason, OSSE is unlike any other state-level oversight body in the country. In every state, school districts answer to state-level education authorities, which are empowered to audit all school data and demand corrective action where an audit identifies areas of concern. In no other state does the state-level oversight body report to the head of a school system it oversees. This conflict of interest compromises the work of our Superintendent, risking the public’s trust in the integrity of our school data. Unfortunately, the effect of this conflict of interest on OSSE’s work is not merely speculative. In recent years, there have been concerning reports regarding OSSE’s oversight of our public school data, and failures to adequately identify errors or misrepresentations in data on student attendance, suspensions, and graduation rates. In these instances, it was members of the media—not OSSE—who identified these data issues and brought them to the public’s attention. In the normal course, such issues would have been identified as part of regular audits; that they were not raises genuine concerns about our audit processes and how OSSE oversees our school data. What’s more, at that time, it was reported that an OSSE attorney directed staff to delay a particular investigation because it was a mayoral election year.”

An independent OSSE would avoid the inherent conflict of interest that was established with PERAA’s passage in 2017.

I should mention that Shannon Hodge, the founding executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, testified before the Council that she is opposed to both acts currently being debated about OSSE’s reporting structure. About Ms. Cheh’s suggestion she commented:

“Making OSSE an independent agency within the DC government, as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education Independence Amendment Act of 2021 (Bill 24-101) would do, would separate it from other agencies that it is deeply interconnected with. For example, OSSE and DC Health work closely together on a number of issues relating to the ongoing pandemic and need to be able to make coordinated decisions. OSSE simply needs the support and collaboration of every city agency to best accomplish their work.”

It is an unusual position because the new organizational structure of OSSE mirrors that of the DC Public Charter School Board. With the PCSB, the Mayor appoints the members but the body is run on its own. I say the council should pass this legislation.


Mayor Bowser quietly transfers closed Wilkinson Elementary to DC Prep PCS

A search yesterday of legislation before the D.C. Council revealed that Mayor Muriel Bowser has granted DC Prep PCS the right to lease DCPS’s former Wilkinson Elementary School in Ward 8 that was closed in 2009. The Council was scheduled to approve the transfer on Tuesday. The move by Ms. Bowser solves a major facility problem that for about three years has plagued the school founded by Emily Lawson in 2003. The approximately 146,000 square foot building will house DC Prep’s Anacostia elementary and middle schools.

Remember that back in 2019, shortly before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, DC Prep had purchased a property on Frankford Street S.E. for its Anacostia Middle School. The acquisition brought a public outcry at that year’s November meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board during which multiple community members testified that the charter had failed to inform them of its intention to open at this site. DC Prep had also leased space in the Birney Building and was hoping to take over this facility since the former Excel PCS was using this property, its rental agreement with Building Pathways was coming to an end, and it had converted to become a traditional school after being closed by the charter board. The Birney Building at the time was designated as a site for charters through an arrangement between Building Pathways and the D.C. Department of General Services.

Fast forward to May 2021 in one of the peaks in the public emergency, when Ms. Bowser took time to provide a facility update as part of a discussion around her upcoming budget proposal. As reported by the Washington Post’s Perry Stein:

“She plans to move the new Bard High School Early College to a permanent location in 2023 at the original Malcolm X Elementary — a shuttered campus in Southeast Washington — and allocate $80 million to the facility. The closed Spingarn High School in Northeast Washington would be home to the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. Excel Academy Public School will remain permanently at its current location at the old Birney building in Southeast Washington, which the city owns but has been leasing to charters. Bowser’s proposal would give charter school operators the option to lease the closed Wilkinson Elementary in Southeast Washington by 2024.”

The news that Wilkinson was being offered to charters represented only the second time in her tenure as Mayor that Ms. Bowser has turned a surplus DCPS building over to the alternative sector. In addition, the decision regarding the Birney Building was a blow to DC Prep. However, now we know that in the end the situation turned out exceedingly well for the charter school.

Anti-charter blogger Valerie Jablow has a lot to say about the apparent secretive nature of the awarding of Wilkinson to DC Prep. I have to say she has a point. There was no public announcement of the decision and it is not known if any other school bid for this property. The charter’s September 21, 2021 board meeting lists as an agenda item “AMC,” and then in the minutes of the session there is a discussion and vote on securing the new location but the name of the building is omitted. This is not exactly in the spirit of the Open Meetings law. As a movement we have got to do better than this.