Could Covid-19 be the fix to the charter school facility issue?

Now that it is abundantly clear that Mayor Muriel Bowser has no intention of transferring shuttered DCPS facilities to charter schools, a new solution is needed for identifying building in which these schools can operate. However, it appears that an old remedy is about to become much more relevant.

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.

In the past it was exceptionally difficult for charters to find offices in which to locate. But now, with businesses forced to close due to the coronavirus and employees working remotely, the ecosystem has been altered.

Much is being written about how Covid-19 is making companies re-think the way its staffs work. Telecommuting is now the new normal for many individuals. The pandemic, it seems, has changed the way that business is conducted that may have a lasting effect.

The long-term impact could be a glut in office space where there once was a tight market. This should lower the square foot price of leasing and increase availability by leaps and bounds. A slower economy will decrease the costs of build outs and renovations. These trends will make it much easier for charter schools to afford these sites.

While there is a slogan that out of tragedies come opportunities, the new availability of commercial real estate for charter schools is one that I would have willingly given up.

D.C. charter schools take cash in lieu of permanent facilities

Last February, which now seems like a decade ago, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recommended a four percent increase to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula for DCPS and charter schools in her fiscal 2021 budget. Then the coronavirus hit. At the time the city had a $1.43 billion rainy day fund saved up. Now the Bowser Administration has revealed that the economic downturn the District is currently experiencing will result in $722 million less in revenue for the 2020 fiscal year and 774 million fewer dollars next year.

With numbers such as these there was tremendous fear on the minds of public education supporters that the proposed jump in the UPSFF would be eliminated. Yesterday, Ms. Bowser released her revised proposed budget for FY 2020 and the bump in the UPSFF went from four percent to three.

Charter representatives are beyond thrilled at the news. Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, exclaimed on Twitter, “To raise education funding during this time of fiscal hardship is truly heroic. Well done, @MayorBowser” Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship PCS wrote on the same platform, “‘Our public schools & our children, our teachers, everybody… we know they are going to be coming back. When they come back, we want to send a clear message that their schools are going to be ready. We are not going to take a single step back.’ Thank you @MayorBowser

In a press release dated yesterday, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools interim executive director Anne Herr commented:

“COVID-19 has put incredible pressure on the district’s budget, and we recognize that Mayor Bowser had to make tough choices this year. We applaud her for increasing education funding and investing in DC students. These investments are critical to ensure students have access to the instructional and health supports that will be necessary to have them back on track by Summer 2021. We look forward to working with the Education Committee and other members of the D.C. Council to ensure that these increases are part of the final budget so that students have what they need to thrive.” 

However, an update on finances was not the only information the Mayor shared yesterday that is of interest to our local charter school movement. She also announced several decisions regarding excess DCPS facilities. As captured 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.”

Malcolm X and Springarn were two buildings charter supporters loudly and repeatedly called on Ms. Bowser to release for their use. Remember the collective disgust the sector expressed when a video of the empty and deteriorating Springarn made its appearance on social media?

If and when Wilkinson is actually turned over to charters that would make a total of two former DCPS building turned over to charters in Ms. Bowser’s two terms as chief executive. This is a horrible record.

But perhaps the bigger disappointment is what the decision regarding the Birney building means for DC Prep PCS. As you may recall, the charter has leased the ground floor of this location which it plans to use to house the fourth and fifth grade of its Anacostia Middle School. It still needs a permanent home. As detailed by DC Prep’s CEO Laura Maestas during my interview with her last December:

“Building Pathway’s lease with Excel is coming to an end, but for over a year we have not been able to get an answer as to whether Excel is staying or leaving the property.  The building lease is held by Building Pathways for 12 years with D.C.’s Department of General Services and it specifies that a charter school will be housed in the Birney Building.”

In 2018 Excel Academy relinquished its charter and became part of DCPS. Therefore, it really does not have the right to stay at its current location. Now it appears that DC Prep will have to go ahead and develop the property it purchased on Frankford Street, S.E., a scenario that in the past has received heavy criticism from the community. Alternately, it can once again begin the hunt for another space.

Highly discouraging is that in all the high fives delivered to the Mayor there was not a peep about the facility moves. It appears that Ms. Bowser found a perfectly effective way to silence our voices. The solution was money.

Capital Village charter school finds a permanent facility; this is terrible news

The enthusiastic press release reached my mailbox on Tuesday. “Capital Village Public Charter School today announced that Washington D.C.’s Ward Five will be the home of its first campus, a middle school opening in the Fall of 2020.”

Reading down the page I experienced the definition of mixed emotions. Capital Village will be opening at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E., the location that I found for the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts back in 2004. A firm associated with the Ezra commercial real estate company purchased this property and 707 Edgewood Street so that charter schools could find homes. Broker Anthony King came up with the idea of buying buildings and renting them back to charters after I had recruited him to assist years earlier with the extremely frustrating facility hunt for the Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy. I had been serving on the Cesar Chavez Board and later became a founding board member of WEDJ. The Washington Business Journal covered the story back then:

“Leaders within the charter school system can’t recall a time when the real estate community helped charter schools find appropriate classroom space. And despite its real estate challenges, the charter school system continues to flourish, giving the troubled D.C. school system a much-needed bright spot.

‘These people are heroes,’ says Mark Lerner, of Ezra and his investment team. Lerner is on the board of Doar and director of radiology services at Children’s National Medical Center in D.C.”

After the lease was signed we went on to create one of the most spectacular schools I have ever seen, complete with a black box theater and two dance studios.

In 2018, the DC Public Charter School Board voted to close WEDJ due to poor academic performance. The school had been renamed City Arts and Prep PCS. Here’s what I said about the decision at the time:

“For me, this was an exceptionally sad turn of events. Maybe the most exciting day of my life was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s holiday in 2005 when, as board chair, WEDJ moved into it permanent facility at 705 Edgewood Street, N.E. Just driving up the ramp to the school’s entrance had my heart racing. My wife Michele and I helped the teachers set up their classrooms on that morning, and I still consider this building that I had a part in acquiring and designing to be the most beautiful school in Washington, D.C. The positive anticipation of those supporting the first 130 students enrolled in this integrated arts curriculum charter was so great that it brought many of us to tears. At its peak, WEDJ would instruct over 660 scholars on two campuses.”

I, of course, wondered what would happen to the property. Ezra had sold it to others awhile ago and stopped being a landlord. Therefore, I’m happy that a new charter will be able to take advantage of what we had built. However, at the same time, the news is a tragedy for our local movement.

We know that about a million square feet of vacant or significantly underused classroom space is sitting out there that DCPS is holding onto and will not share with charters. The shocking video of an empty and crumbling Spingarn High School being the latest concrete example of this travesty of justice. The fact that Capital Village has to utilize taxpayer funds to rent from a private developer is disgusting.

I do not for a minute fault the leaders of Capital Village. They had no choice. They needed a spot to open in the fall and there is literally nothing available right now.

But the fact that there is no place for charters to go should make us ill. There are a ton of hallways, common areas, and rooms for desks ready right this minute for the happy sound of children’s laughter to fill. But there is no one willing to take the bold move to force them to be given up to charter schools.

There are no heroes in 2020.

Video of empty Spingarn High School is shocking, sad, and motivating

WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle revealed the other day a 26 minute video made by two gentlemen, Bryan and Michael, who call themselves the Proper People, who took an unauthorized tour of D.C.’s Spingarn High School that was closed in 2013. He wrote:

“Opened in 1952 as a segregated high school for African American students, Spingarn came to be known both for its academics and its fearsome basketball program, which produced NBA talents like Elgin Baylor, Sherman Douglas and Dave Bing — who also served as Detroit’s mayor. In 2012, the building was declared a historic site, partially in response to plans by the city to build a streetcar repair facility on the school’s grounds. But dwindling enrollment prompted D.C. Public Schools to close Spingarn in 2013, alongside 14 other schools.

The pictures remind me of other former DCPS facilities in which through the pealing plaster, cracked floors, and mounds of trash, you can imagine the spectacular beauty that once characterized the space. It looks extremely similar to Rudolph Elementary that now houses Washington Latin PCS. More than $20 million was spent renovating that building. This site apparently once had an elegant auditorium, theater, gymnasium, and greenhouse.

The images were particularly moving to me because it appeared that there may have been a school for radiologic technologists based upon the x-ray equipment that was found. I have worked in the medical imaging field for more than 30 years.

There is something terribly wrong here. A 225,000-square-foot building sits empty accumulating damage from wind, water, and vandals, and charter schools struggle on a daily basis desperately trying to figure out where they are going to educate their students. Parents have placed their complete faith in these institutions to provide the optimistic future for their children that they do not have. But due to politics, ego, discrimination, or simply poor public policy judgement, this structure and many others are blocked from their use.

Life is not fair. Bad things happen to good people and we do not understand the reason. Injustices persist in this country and around the world. Despite heroic efforts by numerous philanthropic individuals, too many human beings go to bed at night without sufficient food, shelter, and clothing.

No, not every problem in society can be fixed. But there is one issue that could be resolved this morning. Surplus DCPS space can be turned over to charters. Let’s ask Mayor Boswer to take this step today. She simply needs to say O.K.

One day after call for increased funding for D.C. public schools, Mayor agrees to 4% jump

Yesterday, I wrote about a column in the Washington Post by Anthony Williams calling for a four percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. The same day, Twitter ignited with the news that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had agreed to include the additional spending in her fiscal 2021 budget. If approved by the Council, this will be a tremendous help for schools desperate to stay competitive with teacher salaries.

Mr. Williams in his piece talked about the revenue available to the District for such an investment. He wrote;

“The Office of the Chief Financial Officer recently announced the collection of $280 million in unanticipated revenue in fiscal 2019 and is projecting nearly $518 million in additional revenue over the next four years.”

In an article by the Post’s Perry Stein about the new incremental school spending she adds,

“Bowser’s announcement comes just days after her administration announced the city has a $1.43 billion rainy day fund.”

The reporter also included some interesting statistics about public school spending in the District of Columbia:

“In all, the mayor plans to spend about $989 million in city money on the District’s traditional public school system. The total spending figure represents an average increase of 8 percent for each campus in the traditional school system, with some of that boost reflecting expected growth in enrollment.”

More money for our students is big news, however, a couple of paragraphs in Ms. Stein’s story really caught my attention:

“But many schools — especially in Wards 7 and 8, the swaths of the city with the highest concentrations of poverty — have struggled with enrollment in recent years. Teachers have said they feel hamstrung, with declining enrollment leaving them with less funding and inadequate resources to serve their students and attract new ones.

Smaller schools are more expensive to operate and, with the opening of new campuses in the traditional public and charter sectors, the city has an increasing number of campuses with many vacant seats. A total of 38 high schools educate nearly 20,000 students in the traditional and charter sectors.”

The reality of underutilized traditional school school buildings, while nothing new, should at this point in our city’s efforts at public school reform drive a complete rethinking of the actual number of DCPS schools that are truly needed, how consolidation could lead to improved academic achievement for students, and which buildings could be turned over to the charter sector that desperately needs them.

Spending more money is easy. Realigning resources to match student needs is much more challenging. We have heard time and time again that parents do not care if a school is a regular one or a charter. They just want a quality education for their children. We have also listened as people across this town have called for coordination of resources between DCPS and charters.

Now is the time for real leadership.

Finally, a creative solution for D.C.’s charter school facility crises

Former D.C. Mayor and chief executive officer of the Federal City Council Anthony Williams had an editorial in yesterday’s Washington Post calling for several “investments” on our public schools. The column is timed to influence current D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s upcoming proposed 2021 fiscal year budget. Mr. Williams argues for stabilization of the 2.2 percent increase in the charter school facility allotment that was provided to schools last year, an at-risk student admission preference, an increase in the at-risk weighting in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, and a four percent across the board increase in the UPSFF.

The suggestions contained in the piece mirror those included in an “Open Letter to Mayor Bowser, Chairman Mendelson and the DC Council on 2020 Education Priorities” dated January 28, 2020 that is signed by 38 charter and public school advocacy group leaders, although these individuals state that they are writing on behalf of themselves and not their organizations. The letter supplements the recommendations of Mr. Williams, stating that the UPSFF at-risk student weighting should go up to 0.37 and remarks that the at-risk admission preference by schools be voluntary.

Both Mr. Williams and the Open Letter contain a intriguing incentive to increase charter school co-locations with traditional schools. As stated in the Post piece:

“We should also encourage more efficient use of existing public school buildings, including incentivizing co-locations of DCPS and public charter schools. One way to do that is by dedicating a portion of rent paid by a public charter school to the school-level budget of the “host” DCPS school. Doing so would provide resources for these schools schools without increasing the District’s overall budget while providing high-quality learning environments to more public school students. That is a true win-win.”

There you have it. The most promising positive suggestion regarding the stifling charter school facility shortage that I have seen in my 20 years of involvement in this movement. This concept desperately needs to be included in Ms. Bowser’s upcoming budget. In addition, she, together with the Deputy Mayor for Education, need to make co-location of charters with DCPS a priority of their school building utilization efforts going forward.

Now that we have a first step toward breaking the deadlock for charter classroom space what else can be done? Can the city provide developers a financial incentive to include schools in their projects? Can charters get first crack at properties that are condemned?

Here is one thing that should happen starting today. The Bowser Administration must follow the law and turn over vacant surplus DCPS building to them for their immediate use.

D.C. school buildings need to be turned over to an independent agency

I read with supreme interest yesterday’s Washington Post story by Perry Stein about the decision by DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee to close Washington Metropolitan Opportunity Academy, a poor performing alternative public school serving 150 middle and high school students near Howard University. It is the first school closed by the system since 2013. My immediate question was whether the building would be turned over to a charter. My answer came in the last paragraph of the reporter’s article:

“A spokesman for Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said the District does not yet know what it will do with the building. He said keeping it in the school system’s inventory is one option.”

This response is totally unacceptable. Friends of Choice in Urban Schools and others have estimated that there is currently over a million square feet of excess building space that the traditional school system is holding that should be available to charters. Other D.C. Mayors have turned scores of excess buildings over to the sector that educates 43,556 students or 46 percent of all public school pupils in the District. Mayor Muriel Bowser is talking about providing one in her five years in office, as long as the winner of the request for proposal agrees to renovate a community center on the site that includes the complete refurbishing of a swimming pool. A final decision on who gets this land has yet to be made.

Enough is enough. If this Mayor and Deputy Mayor for Education cannot objectively assess whether it needs to maintain classroom structures in its inventory then we need an independent agency to manage the properties.

Charters are desperate for buildings in which to operate. For those of you who are not familiar with the exciting charter movement in the nation’s capital you really need to visit one of these locations. These are public schools that resemble private schools in setting high expectations for both students and staff. They are on a life or death mission to close the academic achievement gap because they are held accountable to meet stellar standards set by themselves and the DC Public Charter School Board. They have to operate in this manner because they are institutions of choice in which perceived weaknesses by parents will drive them to take their children somewhere else along with their scholarship money.

The Mayor is over DCPS but not charters. Therefore, I can see in a twisted, distorted way why she would want to keep the school buildings she has control over. But for someone who represents all citizens of our great city this really does not make any sense. There are an estimated almost 20,000 children on wait lists trying to obtain admission to a charter school.

If Ms. Bowser cannot make the right decision because of politics, personal bias, or poor judgment, then we desperately need an independent, nonpartisan, government body that is empowered to do the right thing. New charters are ready to open their doors and others are dying to expand. The moment to act is now.

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.

Testimony of Scott Pearson, PCSB executive director, on charter school facilities misses main point

Last Wednesday, Scott Pearson provided the most detailed and passionate testimony before the D.C. Council of his eight and a half years as executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board. The occasion was a hearing on the Master Facilities Plan, and Mr. Pearson used his opportunity to poke a huge hole in the administration of Mayor Bowser’s contention that there are only three surplus DCPS facilities that could be turned over to charter schools. From his remarks:

“We put city-owned buildings potentially available to charter schools into seven categories.
 
Category one is the one building that we and the city agree is vacant, and for which the city is currently seeking offers from public charter schools. This building is Ferebee Hope, a 193,000 square foot facility in Ward 8.
 
In category two are two buildings that we and the city agree are vacant, but for which the city says that DCPS is currently “evaluating programming” – which we fear is a euphemism for “allowing to demise.” The buildings in this category are Spingarn, a 225,000 square foot building in Ward 5, and Winston, a 138,000 square foot building in Ward 7. Both should be immediately released to public charter schools.
 
Category three is a building that will soon be vacant. As this council well knows, a new Banneker High School is being constructed. When it is ready in Summer, 2021, the old building will be available, 146,000 square feet in Ward 1.  The city should begin planning now to transfer this to a public charter school before the building deteriorates and requires major repairs.
 
Category four is a building that was wrongly removed from the list of surplus buildings. I say wrongly because it is a vacant school building highly sought-after by charter schools. Fletcher Johnson, a 302,000 square foot building in Ward 7, is instead being redeveloped by DMPED. All agree the site is large enough to accommodate both school and other uses. It is essential that the city ensure space at this redeveloped site for a public charter school.
 
Category five contains four DCPS buildings that in the past few years have been allowed to house other city agencies. Given our facilities shortage the city’s first priority should be to use public school buildings for public schools.  Moreover, in all of these sites, the residing city agency is not using all of the space, so if these agencies won’t move, they should at least co-locate. The four buildings are Emery in Ward Five, used for DCPS administration, Kenilworth in Ward 7, used by DPR, Malcolm X in Ward 8, used by DPR and DOES, and Wilkinson in Ward 8, used by the DC Infrastructure Academy.
 
Category six is a nearly empty, 100,000 square foot building owned by another agency. I’m referring to DC Public Library’s Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street NE in Ward 5. A careful review of city buildings would likely find other such opportunities, but this one is truly low hanging fruit.
 
Finally, in category seven are three buildings used by DCPS for swing space – Davis, Garnet-Patterson, and Meyer. DCPS needs swing space. But from time to time these buildings are empty for a year or more, as Garnet Patterson is this year. When vacant they should be made available to charter schools for temporary, swing, or incubator use.”

The total number of buildings that should have been transferred to charter schools by law, according to Mr. Pearson, is 13. However, he neglected to mention Stevens Elementary, which adds one to the total. Finally, if we want to know the final count for how many classroom spaces Ms. Bowser could have turned over to charters, we have to include the five structures that she transferred to private developers. Now the grand total goes up to an astonishing 19 schools.

There are almost 12,000 students on charter school wait lists. There are many charters that are currently desperate for permanent facility space. When you combine these two facts that only conclusion that can be reached, sadly and unfortunately, is that Mayor Bowser does not care about our children.

Prominent members of our local charter movement have speculated as to why Ms. Boswer is skirting a legal and moral prerogative. One view is that the Mayor is holding onto these sites to purposely limit the number of students in charters so that the share of pupils attending traditional schools during her tenure does not fall under 50 percent.

Can this at all be true?

I want to conclude with a few lines from a recent analysis by David Osborne and Tressa Pankovits, both from the Progressive Policy Institute who were kind enough to spend some time on the telephone with me recently to review this data.

“The bottom line: DCPS has improved by leaps and bounds, but it has not figured out how to educate its poorest students. In contrast, many of the city’s charter schools have figured that out. The 2019 NAEP score gap between D.C.’s FRL [Free and Reduced Lunch]-eligible charter students and other charter students in eighth grade was 12 points; in fourth grade it averaged just 10 points.

The city’s annual PAARC test results confirm what we saw on the NAEP. In wards 5, 7 and 8, which have the highest concentrations of poor children, 22 of the top-performing 23 schools were charters. The one DCPS school in the top 23, McKinley Tech High School, selects its students. The charter schools vastly outperform DCPS schools in these three wards — roughly doubling DCPS’s percentage of students who score a 4 or 5 (meeting or exceeding expectations).”

If we truly care about the future of our most vulnerable kids, then the empty deteriorating surplus DCPS buildings would be immediately given to charters.

Latest D.C. Mayoral plan to keep closed traditional school buildings away from charters: open early-childhood centers

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed on Friday that next fall the former DCPS Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School will become an early-childhood center teaching approximately 30 kids from age birth to three years old. Bright Beginnings, a nonprofit company described by Ms. Stein as experienced in working with homeless children, will manage the program. From the organization’s website:

“Bright Beginnings was established in 1990 by the Junior League of Washington to provide quality childcare to families experiencing homelessness in Washington, DC. For over 29 years, Bright Beginnings has helped thousands of children experiencing homelessness by providing them and their families with quality care and support during times of hardship and transition. In 2014, Bright Beginnings pioneered the first home-based program in the country with the sole focus of supporting families impacted by the trauma of homelessness. Through programs such as this, Bright Beginnings staff have provided hundreds of Washingtonians living in shelters and transitional housing with important high-quality family and educational support.”

The location, according to Ms. Stein, will also include a preschool program for about 100 three and four-year olds that DCPS will administer.

The Steven School was closed more than a decade ago due to low attendance. This is the third plan for the site, which should have been turned over to charter schools in 2008 as a surplus property. Although the city has a plethora of under-enrolled schools that can be utilized if needed to create early-childhood centers, it appears the strategy now is to convert other vacant buildings for this purpose, slamming the door on charters who desperately need these properties. From the article:

“While the stand-alone early-childhood center will be novel, the city already has three infant and early-toddler centers at existing elementary schools. The idea with those existing centers is that children can attend the same school for the first decade of their lives. United Planning Organization — a community agency founded in 1962 to bring programs to the District’s low-income residents — operates those early-childhood centers.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said stand-alone campuses such as Stevens can offer more slots than co-located programs by having a campus solely dedicated to the city’s youngest learners. The stand-alone campuses can also provide professional development opportunities for preschool teachers.”

Ms. Stein announced the charter school facility blockade campaign as part of her reporting:

“The Bowser administration said it has dedicated $52 million to create similar stand-alone childhood facilities at three other closed schools. Next up: The city is in the early stages of transforming the former Marshall Elementary School in Northeast Washington into an early-childhood center.”

Steven has an fascinating history. According to the National Park Service:

“Named for  Pennsylvania Congressman and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, the four-story brick school was built in 1868 for Black students. The emancipation of slaves in 1863 and the abolition of slavery in 1865 resulted in huge numbers of freed African Americans in need of basic services such as education. The Stevens school was built to accommodate this influx of students in a racially segregated city.”

The Washington Post editorial writer Colbert King attended Stevens when he was growing up. It’s now almost exactly 20 years since he and I sat in his newspaper’s conference room to discuss providing school choice to our city’s children. Mr. King is a brave man. He is just the individual to make a strong argument in his newspaper that the failure of our Mayor to follow the law regarding turning shuttered DCPS buildings over to charters is doing an injustice to our children. It is also not right.