D.C. public school awash in cash

Last Thursday, D.C. Mayor Bowser announced her recommended public school funding for the fiscal 2022 school year, although her formal budget is not due to the Council now until the end of May. Her press release regarding the spending plan boasts that her administration is now allocating “more than $2 billion to serve an estimated 98,528 students in DC’s traditional public schools and public charter schools.”

The main increase comes from raising the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula by 3.6 percent. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein indicated that the base that each school receives per student would go from $11,310 to $11,720. The Mayor also enlarges the at-risk student weight and the weight for English Language Learners, while creating a new at-risk weight for adult students still in high school.

These local dollars come on top of $386 million from the U.S. Congress’ American Rescue Plan, with DCPS receiving approximately $191 million, and charters getting $156 million.

There was no news on the charter school facility fund front. Please recall that the DC Charter School Alliance called for a 3.1 percent increase in this $3,408 figure and continued 3.1 percent jumps over the next five years.

All of these dollars come with a significant catch. In her announcement of the school budget Ms. Bowser stated that “in the fall of 2021, she expects all public schools in Washington, DC to fully open for in-person learning, five days a week, with all educators back in the classroom.”

I sense a frustration by our city’s chief executive that the District is not further along in re-opening schools. According to Ms. Stein only twelve percent of pupils have returned to class. But with people getting vaccinated against Covid-19 at a faster pace here in D.C., I don’t see how reaching her target will be an issue.

When most students return to learn in physical buildings it will be about 17 months since they have been taught in person. Then the job of bringing them back to academic grade level begins. Will money be a sufficient means for reaching this goal? Not if the past provides any clues.

With no hope of D.C. charter funding equity with DCPS, the alternative sector should change course

Not widely known is that the FOCUS engineered lawsuit brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools ended quietly in July of 2019 when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the legal action on the grounds that the case did not belong in federal court. The original action was brought in part because of an analysis by Mary Levy that found that between the 2008 and 2012 school years the traditional schools received between $72 million and $127 million annually in funding outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula to which charters did not have access. As stipulated in the School Reform Act, all revenue for public school funding must come through the UPSFF.

So now what? Should a new court case be started? This would be my preference but in reality I recognize that the chances of a sequel are nil. FOCUS, who organized the past effort, is no more, replaced by the DC Charter School Alliance. One of the plaintiffs, the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, also ended operating, being melded into the Alliance. I sense that with charters struggling to open in the face of the pandemic, a fight with the city is about the last thing these institutions want to concentrate on.

I’m calling for a new strategy, one that is already in play. What I’m seeing is that the Alliance is actively seeking assistance from city agencies. Take for example, this recent testimony by founding executive director Shannon Hodge before the D.C. Council’s Committee on Health:

“First, in November, charter school leaders laid out what schools needed from city officials that would enable schools to safely bring more students back to building for in-person learning. We asked the city to provide equitable access to health-related services, including providing at least one nurse or medical professional in every school building who could serve all students, teachers, and staff on site. We also asked for asymptomatic COVID-19 testing. But more importantly, we asked for DC Health to provide clear, updated orders and public health guidance to enable schools to provide quality in-person learning environments for more students during the pandemic. The city responded. DC Health updated public health guidance, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) issued a Frequently Asked Questions document for school leaders, and public charter schools now have access to the city’s asymptomatic testing program. As a result, we have more students in charter school buildings.”

The 2013 Adequacy Study, that the Alliance likes to quote, called out all of the money that DCPS receives to which charters do not receive. This includes “Teacher Pensions,” “Educational Furnishings and Equipment,” “Information Technology Services and Equipment,” “Risk Management, Legal Services, and Settlement,” “General Maintenance—Buildings and Grounds,” “Custodial Services,” and “Utilities.”

Instead of trying to have the Mayor and city council increase funding to charters to cover these expenses, charters should demand that these services also be proved to charters. The argument is simple. It is a matter of equity.

Now I can hear the counterargument in my mind already. Many charter leaders will state that they don’t want things like housekeeping provided by the D.C. government; they believe that it will be done better by the vendor of their choosing. My response to this line of reasoning is that it is fine. Don’t take the help if you don’t want it. But in these times of fiscal restraints the option of charters to take advantage of these offerings could allow the reallocation of expenditures toward augmenting the instructional program.

Moreover, who in the nation’s capital in 2021 could possibly be against equity?

$2.75 billion included in pandemic relief bill for private schools added by Democrats

Now that the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package has passed Congress and has been signed into law by President Biden we are learning what it contains. Tucked inside is $2.75 billion in aid for private schools. The most shocking part of the inclusion of this funding, which is something former U.S. Education Betsy DeVos would have advocated for if she was still in office, is who added this money to the legislation. The New York Time’s Erica Green reported yesterday that the effort was led by New York’s Democratic Senator Charles Schumer. As if this wasn’t remarkable in its own right, apparently the move was seconded by Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers union.

Perhaps this pandemic has turned the world inside out.

Ms. Green revealed that Mr. Schumer fought for these dollars as a result of lobbying by New York City’s Orthodox Jewish community and made it into the act right before final approval by the House of Representatives. Catholic groups also got behind the idea.

In the past, the only revenue going directly to private schools from Congress has been to provide low-income parents with school vouchers for their children in Washington, D.C. as part of the Opportunity Scholarship Program included in the the SOAR Act. The Times seems to understand the magnitude of the change. From the article:

“We never anticipated Senate Democrats would proactively choose to push us down the slippery slope of funding private schools directly,” said Sasha Pudelski, the advocacy director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association, one of the groups that wrote letters to Congress protesting the carve-out. “The floodgates are open and now with bipartisan support, why would private schools not ask for more federal money?”

Ms. Green indicated that the National Education Association put up some resistance to the inclusion of this cash. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was not a supporter. In addition, Ms. Green pointed out that “Senator Patty Murray, the chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was said to have been so unhappy that she fought to secure last-minute language that stipulated the money be used for ‘nonpublic schools that enroll a significant percentage of low‐​income students and are most impacted by the qualifying emergency.’”

Mr. Schumer was glad to take credit for his accomplishment. Ms. Green added, “In a statement to Jewish Insider, Mr. Schumer said, ‘This fund, without taking any money away from public schools, will enable private schools, like yeshivas and more, to receive assistance and services that will cover Covid-related expenses they incur as they deliver quality education for their students.'”

But what Mr. Schumer claimed about not taking dollars away from public schools is not true. The New York Times found that the original aid contained in this legislation contained about $3 billion more for public schools. However, you don’t need to worry that they were shortchanged. The Times piece said that the bill contains $125 billion in Kindergarten through twelfth grade funding for public school with an additional $3 billion for special education and another $800 million in support for homeless students. The magnitude of the taxpayer funding for public schools is the reason that Ms. Weingarten was all right with the private school money. The Times article claimed that Ms. Weingarten said it “was the right thing to do.”

Now, there is no reason that a private school education cannot be offered to children nationwide by the federal government.

Important lesson for D.C. More money does not improve academic results

This morning I’m missing the CATO Institute’s Andrew Coulson who unfortunately passed away from brain cancer in 2016 at the age of 48. When he was alive, Mr. Coulson loved to share data when talking about the subject of public education. His most famous graph is reprinted below:

Media Name: Cato-tot-cost-scores-Coulson-Sept-2012-sm.gif

It shows that despite tremendous increases in government spending for decades, public school student test scores have not improved. In some cases, they have in fact declined. The subject is important and timely since at the end of this month D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will released her proposed FY 2022 budget. Already, various constituencies are lining up to argue for additional dollars, needs which I’m sure have been heightened due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The public schools I’m sure will make a strong case for more taxpayer funds and already the DC Charter School Alliance has argued that both charters and the regular schools need more than $50 million from the previous year.

We need to keep Andrew Coulson’s work in our thoughts.

I guess my mind is wandering but I’m also thinking about the FOCUS-engineered lawsuit against the Mayor that argued that charter school revenue from the city is inequitable compared to what DCPS receives. What is the status of this cause? When FOCUS disappeared did the court case go away as well? I bring this up because in testimony before the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole yesterday the Alliance’s founding executive director Shannon Hodge, as well as making her points about needing more cash, also asked for more government assistance. She argued (and I’m quoting from the testimony):

  • The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) should expand its summer offerings for students to help re-engage students, provide options for families, and alleviate pressure on already exhausted teachers and school staff.
  • The Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) should:
    • Provide internet access for adult students and students who are undocumented;
    • Better communicate with families, especially about how they can directly contact OCTO’s Internet for All program;
    • Provide better internet quality, speed, and connectivity, because households with multiple children and working parents suffer most from poor internet quality;
    • Provide help desk support in other languages;
    • Develop a citywide technical support system; 
    • Clarify whether OCTO or the City will reimburse schools for hotspots and data connectivity they’ve purchased directly; and
    • Articulate a plan for how OCTO will continue to support internet access next school year.
  • The DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) should:
    • Coordinate with the Kids Ride Free Program on a COVID safety campaign to encourage mask wearing, social distancing, and other coronavirus mitigation strategies on public transportation; and
    • Work with schools to improve its communications around projects that are located near schools. 
  • The Department of General Services (DGS) should regularly update charter schools on projects that affect the functioning of their schools and have a point of contact for school leaders.  

There is of course, nothing inherently wrong with these suggestions. But I recall that the main theme of the FOCUS lawsuit was that the traditional schools receive services from the Wilson Building that charter schools cannot access. Perhaps that whole issue has now disappeared?

Mayoral control did not fix D.C.’s public schools

Yesterday, the editors of the Washington Post came out strongly against the suggestion by At-Large Councilmember Robert White that a committee be created to study the governance structure of D.C. public schools. They say that the move had one motive and that is to return DCPS to an arrangement in which it reports to the school board. In their piece the editors point out that Mr. White ran on the notion of ending Mayoral control. They wrote:

“Here is what is important: There has been undeniable progress in the city’s schools since mayoral control was instituted. A school system that was once unable to pay its teachers and ensure that buildings were ready for the first day of school has been completely transformed. There have been increases in student achievement across all student groups, and the national report card, the gold standard of testing, has shown D.C. to be one of the fastest improving systems in the country. Additionally, there is a flourishing public charter school sector that offers worthy choices to parents. There is no question that there is still much more to be done. Far too many children can’t read or do math, and the achievement gap between students of color and their White peers persists; new urgency is needed in addressing these challenges.”

But here is where the Post editors are confused. The improvement in the traditional schools had nothing to do with who was in charge. The tremendous change in DCPS came due to competition from the charter sector. I know, because I watched all of this take place being an active participant as a charter school volunteer tutor, board member, and through my coverage of the movement.

Just to recap. As soon as the first charter school opened parents rushed to place their children in these facilities. Their decision was not primarily to provide their offspring with a better education, although that was a consideration. The driving concern was over the safety of their sons and daughters. The regular schools were routinely filled with gang members, drugs, and weapons. As I’ve written many times, it was often safer during this period to keep your kids home than to send them to the neighborhood schools.

As more charters opened, DCPS lost more of its pupils. Those of us who believe in school choice were waiting for DCPS to react, since funding was tied to how many students a school taught. Shockingly, it took DCPS losing more than twenty-five percent of its enrollment before we saw the election of Mayor Fenty over his campaigning on a promise to fix the schools. He brought Mayoral control, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and modernization of school buildings that really should have been condemned due to their poor physical condition.

The Washington Post editors do get something perfectly right. There is much more work that needs to be done. This is why I’m struggling. If charters are what caused all schools to increase in quality, then why not have more of them? Will the editors heed my call to turn traditional schools over to the sector that has driven academic standards to soar? Why don’t we allow the competition for students to permanently close the academic achievement gap?

Again, as I’ve written on numerous occasions, now is the perfect opportunity to make such a dramatic change. Schools are mostly closed and trying to figure out how to reopen. Let’s give the regular schools the freedom and opportunity to re-cast themselves as a new version of themselves by offering them self-governance. I concur strongly with the Washington Post editor’s closing statement: “new urgency is needed in addressing these challenges.”

Did the pandemic end the D.C. charter school facility crisis?

A few months before the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 virus, a fight was being waged between charter supporters and Mayor Muriel Bowser over her refusal to turn over surplus DCPS buildings to the alternative school sector. The call was to End The List, a reference to the approximately 12,000 students on charter school waitlists due, in part, to the inability of these institutions to replicate and grow because of a severe shortage of available facilities. The D.C. commercial real estate market was on fire and those schools needing buildings in which to open or expand had literally nowhere to go.

But as the virus was raging a glimmer of hope for resolution of the facility crunch emerged. Here is what I observed back in May:

“The last five charters that have been approved for new locations will open in commercial space. Capital Village PCS has taken over the former home of City Arts and Prep PCS, and Girls Global Academy PCS has settled into 733 8th Street, N.W., the site of the Calvary Baptist Church. Appletree Early Learning PCS will join the Richard Wright PCS for Journalism and Media Arts at 475 School Street, S.E. that was part of the campus of the closed Southeastern University. Finally Rocketship PCS will open in Ward 5 in a building owned by the Cafritz Foundation.”

Now, of course, the ecosystem around office space has completely changed. Remote work and Zoom meetings have become the norm. With people becoming vaccinated, and the spread of the virus diminishing, there are calls to bring life back to a new sense of normal. Some schools are open and others are seriously working to bring pupils once again to the classroom.

So the great question will become, when offices reopen will there be room for charters? I believe the answer is yes. My contention is that landlords, desperate for income, are beginning to realize that charter schools make great tenants. They hardly ever close, and their students equal a consistent revenue steam that is never interrupted even through the greatest of catastrophes.

However, the pandemic provides the traditional school system with an additional justification for holding onto empty structures. It will argue that physical distancing requirements translate into a requirement for more square feet for the same number of students. Alternately, I could see a system desperate for cash deciding to sell properties that can never be imagined to be needed again in the future.

In any case, my hope is that I no longer need to be concerned with this topic. The goal is to get more and more students into charter schools to offer them the best chance to learn and become successful in the future. We really could get to the point that there is a quality seat for every child who needs one. One piece of the puzzle in reaching this accomplishment may have been solved.

D.C. Charter School Alliance asks the Mayor for millions; let’s go another route

A February 10th letter from Shannon Hodge, the founding executive director of the D.C. Charter School Alliance, addressed to Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, lays out a detailed wish list of additional funding for both charters and DCPS as part of the FY 2022 budget. Here are the recommendations:

● Increase the UPSFF foundation level by 4% to partially close the gap between current funding levels and the recommended levels from the 2013 DC Education Adequacy Study.
● Increase the facilities allotment by 3.1% to ensure that charter schools continue to receive funds needed to secure and maintain school buildings.
● Increase the at-risk funding weight to .37, the level recommended in the 2013 adequacy study, to direct needed funds to our students most in need of targeted interventions and support.
● Provide $6.4M to expand the Department of Behavioral Health’s school-based mental health program, which will enable 80 additional schools to address student and family mental health needs that instability and loss during the last year have likely exacerbated.
● Increase the English learner weight to .61, the level recommended in the 2013 adequacy study, to support undocumented students who are often excluded from receiving other financial supports due to lack of documentation.

In addition, Ms. Hodge seeks a couple of “legislative adjustments” which will also add to the educational funding stream:

● Create a statutory requirement for review of the definition of “at-risk” under the DC Code to ensure the definition appropriately captures the students in need of additional funding support.
● Continue the automatic escalation of facilities funding for public charter schools with a 3.1% annual increase for each of the next five years to ensure continuity of funding for charter school facilities.

The justification for all of this added public funding is, of course, a continuing effort to close the academic achievement gap between the affluent and poor. The letter states that “While our students have made significant improvements over the years, our investments have not yet produced the education outcomes necessary for every part of our city to thrive. And with COVID-19 disproportionately affecting low-income communities, even more is needed to close opportunity gaps.”

I asked the Alliance for an estimate of the impact on the city’s budget if all of the above requests were granted. There was no response. Therefore, I did a little back-of-the-envelope analysis of my own. The Uniform Per Student Funding Formula’s current base to pay for teaching one pupil a year is $11,310. The four percent increase would bring this number to $11,762. Applying this new payment to 94,412 students leads to $42.7 million in new spending per year. On the charter school facility side, a student generates $3,408 in revenue a year. Bringing this number up by 3.1 percent would generate another $4.6 million in costs. So between the two changes we are talking about around $50 million more annually for public education while recognizing that Washington, D.C., according to Ms. Hodge, “enjoys one of the highest per-pupil allocations for education funding in the country.”

I know it has been an exceptionally challenging twelve months when it comes to instructing our children. The pandemic has brought massive new costs in personal protective equipment, laptops, and other equipment and supplies. But then again, Ms. Bowser last December awarded $10 million dollars to charters to cover these costs. This comes on top of a $16 million grant from the federal government tied to increasing literacy for disadvantaged students. Let’s also not forget contributions schools have received from the DC Education Equity Fund. It’s really hard to keep up with all of this spending.

It is also not as if the Mayor has not been providing educational resources to the charter and traditional school sectors. Since Ms. Bowser came into office in 2015, I cannot recall a time when the UPSFF was not increased as part of the annual budget cycle.

Therefore, I think its more than fair to ask what we have received for this level of financial commitments? I’ll save you the drumroll. The District of Columbia has one of the nation’s largest academic achievement gaps at about 60 points. In addition, despite the heroic efforts of teachers and education leaders, it has not budged for decades.

Therefore, I really think it’s time to try something different. Let’s convert all the traditional schools to charters. In addition, the DC Public Charter School Board must approve more charter operators in the city. Simultaneously, now that Scott Pearson is no longer the board’s executive director, his successor Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis needs to figure out how to provide the schools under her jurisdiction the freedom that they enjoyed when these alternative schools were first created in the nation’s capital.

This terrible pandemic has taught us that we cannot continue to conduct our business as we have in the past. Let’s apply this lesson to the city’s education budget.

Councilmember White wants to rid D.C. of Mayoral control of schools

Last week I wrote about comments by D.C. At-Large Councilmember Robert White that were critical of student academic progress in D.,C.’s public schools over the last fourteen years. He pointed out:

“In Math
– Only 21% of Black students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 79% of White students.
– 16% of at-risk students, 23% of English learners, and 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded expectations.

In English Language Arts
– Only 28% of Black students meet or exceed expectations, compared to 85% of White students.
– 21% of at-risk students, 20% of English learners, and 8% of students with disabilities meet or exceeded expectations.”

Mr. White also is concerned about teacher turnover. The Councilmember asserted that “The District has the highest teacher turnover rate in the country. A quarter of our teachers leave our school system every year. Over half of our DCPS teachers leave within three years, and 70% leave within five years.”

What concerns me is that his solution to these serious problems is not to improve the level of pedagogy taking place in the classroom or by supporting the unique needs of at-risk children. He is not seeking to interview teachers to determine why they are leaving town. No, Mr. White wants to create a committee to “review school governance of DC schools.” He is seeking to discover “what structural changes we need to make to give every student and family a chance for success.” In other words, Mr. White wants to take away Mayoral control of the traditional school system.

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein backs up my assertion. She wrote on Monday:

“Two separate bills would make the state superintendent of education, who administers standardized tests and ensures all day cares and private and public schools are in compliance with federal laws, more independent of the mayor.

Another resolution — which ran into potentially fatal opposition Monday — would create a special committee on the D.C. Council to explore the effectiveness of the city’s education governance structure.”

The suggestion by Councilmember White to create the special committee was blocked on Monday, according to Ms. Stein, by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who stated that Mr. White had no authority to make this move. The suggestion forced education constituencies to take up sides. According to the Washington Post reporter:

“The prospect of this special committee to discuss the effectiveness of mayoral control already drew a rebuke from many charter school leaders, who wrote letters to the council opposing it. But the Washington Teachers’ Union and other education advocacy groups have supported it, viewing mayoral control as an obstacle to having residents’ and teachers’ voices affect public officials’ actions on education.”

Although I have advocated for a State Superintendent of Education independent of the Mayor, all of this recent talk by the Council of changes to the management structure of public schools is a tremendous distraction. It threatens to take away Washington, D.C.’s Hurricane Katrina moment in education. During this period when the Covid-19 pandemic has completely interrupted the instruction of our children, we should be utilizing this time to completely revise how our kids learn. We should follow the example of New Orleans and charterize all of our schools.

Moreover, just where is the new DC Charter School Alliance on this issue? I thought it was a charter school advocacy organization.

Let’s tune out the noise, focus our attention, and do something positively proactive to permanently close the academic achievement gap.

Let’s really do something to serve children of color, English language learners, and students with disabilities in D.C

Yesterday, WTOP’s Abigail Constantino reported that At-Large D.C. Councilmember Robert White called for a special council committee to study how the city’s public schools can better serve students in the District of Columbia. According to Ms. Constantino, Mr. White remarked:

“Now a decade-and-a-half later, the promises that were made in terms of performance and outcomes for our students just haven’t been met. Today, under 30% of Black students are on grade level … compared to roughly 85% of white students.”

In her article Ms. Constantino stated that “after 14 years of mayoral control, At-Large D.C. Council member Robert White said the city’s public schools aren’t working for students of color, English language learners and students with disabilities.”

Mr. White continued:

“I want the council to take this into our own hands, with the urgency and importance that this issue deserves and actually do something, instead of requesting a study or recommendations from outside the council that will just go on a shelf.”

Urgency on providing quality schools for our scholars is something I have been calling for now for over a decade. No one seems to be listening. I do have one problem with the representative’s recommendation. A six month study is not what we need.

We know the answer. The solution is found in the 68 campuses of the city’s network of charter schools. In these facilities kids from all backgrounds receive what is essentially a private school education for free. While the pandemic has prevented us from visiting these schools right now, once they reopen we will once again travel into spaces where teaching looks extremely different from the offerings of DCPS.

Mr. White added:

“We’ll listen to parents; we’ll listen to students; we will look at governance structures in other jurisdictions.”

There are no other jurisdictions we need to look at except what is taking place in our own backyard. All Mr. White needs to do is take a tour of Washington Latin PCS, for example, which is located near his home in Ward 4.

Let’s not waste another minute. While students are learning remotely the adults in charge of DCPS need to take action. Let’s rid ourselves of the current system and institute charters for all.

Mr. White seems to agree with me. He advised, “At this time, when we are talking about racial justice and talking about equity, we have to take the hard steps forward of doing something about it.”

Yes, it will be hard. It will be a fight. The teachers’ unions will put up the struggle of a lifetime. But this is not the moment to tinker around the edges, to make incremental changes, to hope that somehow everything will turn out all right for our kids.

Hope is not a strategy. Only action matters. A decade from now we do not want our children talking about this moment in history and saying our generation did nothing to turn the situation around regarding our traditional public schools.

Please look yourself in the mirror this morning and decide that today is the day to fix our education in Washington, D.C.

D.C. charter board receives 5 applications to open new schools

The DC Public Charter School Board revealed yesterday that it has received five applications to open new schools at the start of the 2022-to-2023 school term.

The first applicant, Capital Experience Lab PCS, came before the board last year. I thought it should have been approved by the board. Here’s what I wrote then:

“The presentations by the new applicants were fascinating. Right out of the gate I’ll wager the entire pot on the Capital Experience Lab PCS being given the green light. Sometimes new bids for charters have an alignment in components that cannot be stopped and this is the case with this school. The support from CityBridge Education combined with Friendship PCS’s CEO Patricia Brantley as a board member and the selection of Lanette Dailey-Reese as head of school present a powerful foundation. I hope you remember Ms. Dailey-Reese as the highly impressive individual who almost single-handily saved City Arts and Prep PCS from closure. This mission of the CAPX LAB around utilizing the wealth of resources present in the nation’s capital as its classroom cannot be topped.”

Ms. Dailey-Reese reprises her role as executive director and Patricia Brantley remains a board member. It would be a sixth grade through ninth grade charter that hopes to locate in Ward 2 or Ward 6 with a total of 622 students at full capacity. As a reminder, this is the applicant that wants to integrate Washington, D.C.’s rich presence of cultural institutions into its pedagogy.

Wildflower PCS would become a pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade charter that would create eight “micro” Montessori schools in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8 instructing a total of 300 students. Now before you reject this application right off the bat due to its complexity, you need to know that there are Wildflower schools today in 13 states, with several localities having more than one school. These are teacher-led institutions supported by the Wildflower Foundation. The first Wildflower school opened in 2014.

I’m sure that the board will heavily scrutinize the relationship between the Wildflower Foundation and the individual schools, especially after the mixed track record out-of-town franchises have had in the District.

An application that has to be taken seriously is the one from Heru Academy PCS. The founders want to create a kindergarten through eighth grade school in Ward 7 or 8 that focuses on teaching children with emotional and physical disabilities. However, there are some red flags here. The application states that the school wants to open and expand to the fifth grade but the growth model in the document goes to grade eight. The narrative states that the school eventually wants to expand through high school. In addition, the charter board often does not like schools that start at kindergarten. Why not teach kids at pre-Kindergarten? There is also a foundation that sits above the school. Explanations will have to be provided around the structure.

Another strong bid is from Lotus PCS, which wants to become a pre-Kindergarten through eight grade school with 342 students in Wards 5 or 6. The mission of this charter is to close the academic and opportunity achievement gap. Lotus PCS would be the first school in the nation’s capital to be affiliated with Big Picture Learning, a network of 65 schools in the United States, with other facilities around the world. Lotus PCS is centered on an inclusion model of teaching that revolves around the way students learn.

Again, look for the DC PCSB to want information on Big Picture Learning and its relationship to the school to be opened in our city.

The fifth applicant is the M.E.C.C.A. Business Learning Institute PCS, an applicant that was rejected in 2018. But now the number of students the charter wants to enroll is tremendously different. Three years ago, the total size of the school reached 990 students in grades six through twelve. Now, the total count for this business education-based and vocational charter is just 175. I remember that the group did not impress me years ago and we will have to see if there is a much improved presentation in 2021.

This will be the first application cycle for new DC PCSB executive director Michelle Walker-Davis. Under her predecessor Scott Pearson the board only approved around 20 percent of those seeking to open new charters. Let’s sincerely hope that her support for school choice is stronger.