D.C. charter school lawsuit continues; a second one should be filed

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported last week that the ruling issued almost exactly a year ago by a federal judge against the FOCUS coordinated charter school funding inequity lawsuit brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, has been appealed.  A federal judge heard oral arguments on November 5th that mostly revolved around whether it is appropriate that the matter be heard in federal court.  The original legal action by the plaintiffs claimed that charter schools receive less money in revenue from the city compared to the regular schools, a figure that has totaled $770 million from 2008 to 2015, and equates to $1,600 to $2,600 per pupil every year.

The supplemental payments to DCPS have come mostly in the form of services the regular schools receive for free that charters do not, such as building maintenance and legal assistance.

The most significant information coming out of Ms. Stein’s story is that legal representation for the charter schools is now being provided by an attorney from WilmerHale, a law firm handling the case on a pro bono basis.  The attorney replaces Stephen Marcus, who was intimately involved in this lawsuit even before it was brought before the court four years ago.

The charter school argument is based upon the School Reform Act.  Passed by Congress and incorporated into local law by the D.C. Council, it states that all financial support for public schools, both charter and traditional, must come through the Uniform Per Student funding formula.  This means that the additional no-charge benefits that DCPS has been receiving over the past twenty years are illegal.

The current situation is unjust and is harming charter schools’ ability to care for the almost 44,000 children sitting it its classrooms.

It is, in fact, difficult to find a more straightforward public policy.  However, you are in luck.  Because on this dark and cold November morning I have found one more, a legal rule that I consider practically a tie in clarity with the dictate on the manner in which our schools receive their operating cash.  Ready, here it is:

All excess DCPS buildings will be offered to charter schools on a right of first offer basis.

As I pointed out yesterday, it is estimated that there is approximately one million square feet of vacant or underutilized DCPS facility space to which charters cannot get access.  An empty site has not been turned over to charters for about four years.  This is severely negatively impacting their ability to expand and replicate.  Now I will ask you a really simple question.  It is early so I don’t want to make it too difficult.  If charters can sue over illegal funding should not the sector also mount a court battle over access to physical structures?

I’ll await your response.

 

 

 

Blockade of turning vacant school buildings over to charters is a problem in many other cities besides D.C.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal a few days ago C.J. Szafir, executive vice president of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, and Cori Peterson, a researcher and writer at the Institute, in a piece entitled “This Building Is for Sale, but Not to a Charter School” tell the exceedingly frustrating story of charters trying to obtain the use of vacant traditional school buildings in Milwaukee and other localities.  They explain:

“The Milwaukee Public Schools currently have at least 11 vacant school buildings and 41 schools operating below 70% capacity—and, according to a report by a consulting group hired by MPS, empty seats are expected to increase by 63% over the next 10 years. Many parents have turned to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program, passed in 1990, which provides low-income children with vouchers for private schools. Over the past decade, enrollment has increased 45% at MPCP schools and by 47% at the city’s charter schools. Many charter and MPCP administrators would like to expand by acquiring vacant public-school buildings.

St. Marcus Lutheran, which has a student body of around 900 and ranks in the top 1% statewide among schools with a majority of low-income and minority students, offered $1 million in 2013 to buy Malcolm X Academy, a large public-school campus that had been closed since 2008. The Milwaukee Board of School Directors said no and instead chose to sell the site to 2760 Holdings LLC, a newly formed corporation registered to a pair of construction-business operators. That deal fell through, and in 2016 the school district opted instead to spend $10 million relocating the struggling Rufus King Middle School and its roughly 400 students to the Malcolm X campus.”

Sound familiar?  It should.  Last June D.C. Mayor Bowser announced that five surplus DCPS buildings were being turned over to developers.  In the nation’s capital there is an estimated one million square feet of space that could be utilized by charters to grow and replicate.  Yet, not one former classroom building has been offered to a charter for almost four years.

The authors of the Wall Street Journal editorial continue:

“In November 2016 Rocketship, a charter school that performs in the top 5% statewide, attempted to buy an MPS building. In the final stage of the negotiation, MPS demanded that Rocketship, which is chartered by the city, obtain a charter from MPS instead. This would allow the district more control over the school. In 2017, because of the ultimatum and protests by the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, the deal fell through. (MPS declined to comment.)”

On to Detroit:

“In 2017 Detroit ranked last in proficiency out of 27 large urban school districts with a measly 5% of fourth-graders proficient in math and 7% in reading. The Motor City is home to one of the largest charter systems in the country; more Detroit students are enrolled in charters than in traditional public schools. The Detroit Public Schools have 22 vacant buildings, but as in Milwaukee, the education establishment isn’t eager to sell.

In 2017 DPS did everything it could, even manipulating deed restrictions, to block charter school Detroit Prep from buying an abandoned building. ‘It seemed that Detroit Public Schools’ perspective was that they could use their size and power to wait us out and, ultimately, put us out of business,’ said Kyle Smitley, Detroit Prep’s co-founder and executive director. The sale was completed only this summer, after litigation, public outrage and the enactment of legislation to prevent deed restrictions on schools.”

Lastly they point to Indianapolis:

“In Indianapolis, only 1 in 4 students passed the state proficiency test last year. From 2006 to 2016, Indianapolis Public Schools’ overall test scores declined 22%. The district announced in June that it would close seven schools. Purdue Polytechnic High School, which is chartered by Purdue University, tried to buy the vacant Broad Ripple High School building but received pushback from Indianapolis Public Schools. Elected officials convinced the district to consider Purdue’s offer, but the school’s leadership announced in August that they were no longer interested.”

Just last month, New York City’s Success Academy called out Mayor de Blasio for severely curtailing the use of vacant regular school system buildings by charters.  As reported by Selim Algar in the New York Post, “Citing a study from the Manhattan Institute, Success Academy said Thursday there are 192 DOE buildings with at least 300 available seats and that some schools have up to 1,000 empty spots.”

Back in D.C., Ms. Bowser offered this justification last summer to United States Senator Ron Johnson to explain her failure to comply with the law that states that charters get right of first offer for empty DCPS facilities:

“As you noted, District of Columbia law gives public charter schools the right of first offer when school facilities are designated as excess.  However, the law does not require the District to designate every vacant or underutilized school as excess.”

But then what about the five buildings she sold?  If you want to know why our children may become confused as to what constitutes the truth or a falsehood you just have to follow the twisted logic of our city’s chief executive.

 

D.C. Mayor Bowser wrangles with Congress over surplus DCPS facilities

Coming shortly before the excellent editorial that appeared in last Sunday’s Washington Post by District of Columbia International Public Charter School’s executive director Mary Schaffner that bemoans the loss of five vacant DCPS facilities for use by charters, was a squabble between D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Senator Ron Johnson over space for the sector that now educates 47 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital.  Senator Johnson sent a letter to Ms. Bowser on May 31, 2018 under his authority as chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is responsible for oversight of the city’s operations.  He wrote:

“Under D.C. law, public charter schools have a right of first offer to purchase, lease, or otherwise use excess school facilities.  This right provides D.C. public charter schools with access to surplus school buildings while allowing the traditional public school system to generate additional revenue.

Although leasing excess school facilities is beneficial to both charter schools and traditional schools, ten percent of D.C. school facilities were vacant or ‘significantly underused’ as of July 2017.  Meanwhile, waiting lists at D.C. charter schools have increased across all charter schools and totaled 28,698 students – an increase of 27.2% from the 2016-2017 waitlist total of 20,880.”

The letter concludes with a request for a list of all surplus and underutilized DCPS buildings and the names of schools that have been turned over to charters during her time in office.

On June 14, 2018, Mayor Bowser responds and answers the two questions in this manner:

“Thank you for your May 31, 2018 letter regarding the District of Columbia’s management of vacant or significantly underutilized public school facilities.  As you noted, District of Columbia law gives public charter schools the right of first offer when school facilities are designated as excess.  However, the law does not require the District to designate every vacant or underutilized school as excess.  Rather, my administration evaluates both the short and long-term needs of a growing school system when determining facility designations.

The population of the District of Columbia declined for several decades but starting in 2010 our population began to grow -recently surpassing 700,000- and so too did student enrollment in the District of Columbia Schools (DCPS) and public charter schools.  Since Fiscal Year 2015, my administration has provided public charter schools over $500 million for school facilities through the per pupil facility allotment, and has awarded over $13 million to high-performing public charter schools through ‘Scholarships for Opportunities and Results’ (SOAR) facilities grant funding.

During my tenure, we have converted three facilities to public charter use; these schools now serve approximately 2,000 public charter school students.  We also established the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force in August 2015, to increase dialog and coordination between DCPS and our public charter schools, especially with respect to the opening, closing, and siting of school facilities.  My administration will also be completing a Public Education Master Facilities Plan (MFP) this year.  The MFP will identify schools that are currently underutilized or overcrowded and provide recommendations on how to address these imbalances as well as identify potential gaps between future facility needs and anticipated public school enrollment growth.  Additionally, to address overutilization, the District’s FY 19-24 Capital Improvement Plan includes $40 million to add permanent classroom capacity at two of DCPS’s most over-utilized schools.”

Ms. Bowser includes with her letter a spreadsheet of vacant and “significantly underused” DCPS facilities.

In consulting with Friends of Choice in Urban Schools regarding the mayor’s response, it appears that several of her statements are not perfectly accurate.

First, it is true as Ms. Bowser states that under the law every vacant building need not be deemed a surplus property.  However, the law was intended as a method of making these sites available to charter schools.  Simply holding them without explanation means she is restricting access to quality school seats to children living in the District of Columbia.

In addition, the Bowser Administration has really not “awarded over $13 million to high-performing public charter schools through ‘Scholarships for Opportunities and Results’ (SOAR) facilities grant funding.”  These dollars are provided at the federal level and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education then grants them to public charter schools.  Going forward, the awards will be given to each charter school based upon a per pupil allotment.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the Mayor has not turned over three former DCPS buildings to charters.  In fact, the conversions she included in her letter to Senator Johnson had taken place years earlier and these buildings were already being utilized by the sector.

Specifically, M.C. Terrell-McGogney Elementary School, as the Washington Post’s Emma Brown reported, was turned over to Somerset PCS in 2013 under Mayor Gray through Building Hope’s Charter School Incubator Initiative.  In 2016, Mayor Bowser renewed the incubator lease.  The William B. Keene Elementary School was awarded to Dorothy I. Height Community Academy in 2008.  After Community Academy was shuttered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 2013 the site was transferred to DC Bilingual PCS.  Finally, the P.R. Harris Educational Center has been the home to National Collegiate Preparatory Public Charter High School and Ingenuity Prep PCS again as part of the Charter School Incubator project.  Ms. Bowser renewed the lease for this space in 2016.

In fact, there have been no vacant or underutilized DCPS buildings turned over to charters to date since Muriel Bowser came into office in 2015.

 

 

 

 

D.C. charters lose five former DCPS schools that could have expanded movement

Yesterday, Jon Banister of Bisnow Washington D.C. revealed that Mayor Muriel Bowser has turned five former DCPS schools over to developers.  These historic and beautiful buildings could have played a major role in expanding our local charter school movement.  For example, Rocketship PCS and KIPP DC are in desperate need of facilities and I’m sure there are many more charters that could have used the available space to try and meet the wait list of 11,317 children whose parents are trying to get them into one of these institutions.

The re-purposed structure, according to Mr. Banister,  include the Franklin School which will become Planet Word, a museum to the language arts.  It is 51,000 square feet and was built as one of the initial neighborhood public schools in our city.  The Crummell School,  which honors abolitionist and teacher Reverend Alexander Crummell, served black students in the 1900s.  It is 108,000 square feet and will become a mixed use development.

The Grimke School gets its name from NAACP president Archibald Grimke.  It currently houses the African-American Civil War Museum.  The approximately 45,000-square-foot property will continue to be the home of the museum plus office space for its architect.  There will also be some room for a cultural organization.

The Randall School used to be the Francis Cardozo Elementary School and Randall Junior High School.  This approximately 50,000 square foot building will become a museum, office space, and restaurants.

Finally, the Hine School, which used to be Hine Junior High School, has become a Trader Joe’s, taking up 60,000 square feet.

So hundreds of thousands of square feet of surplus DCPS facilities that by law should have gone to charter schools are now being converted to commercial uses.  The next time that you hear Ms. Bowser talk about her support for public education and charter schools please be brave enough to remind her that her claims could not be further from the truth.

 

Walton Foundation attempts to boost charter school facility funding

The Walton Family Foundation announced this week the creation of two new funds that could play a major role in aiding charter schools across this country obtain permanent facilities.  Of course, securing permanent buildings is the greatest, and seemingly most intractable, problem facing these institutions.

The Charter Impact Fund, as described by the foundation’s press release and formed with an initial $200 million investment, is a non-profit that will “provide long-term, fixed-rate loans—similar to a home mortgage—to high-performing charter schools anywhere in the country for up to 100 percent of project costs. The CIF provides charter schools with access to lower transaction costs and quicker loan execution —allowing each school to save several million dollars over the loan term.”

A second financing mechanism, The Facilities Investment Fund, will offer five-year fixed-rate loans to charter schools in order to cover 90 percent of a renovation or new building.  Backed with $100 million, it has been originated through a partnership with Bank of America Merrill Lynch and overseen by Civic Builders.

Both of these moves seem promising and it will be interesting to see if they provide value to charters here in D.C.  But what if charters do not have the money or cash flow to support loans?  In addition, support of renovation costs does not help if buildings cannot be found.  The District has such a strong commercial real estate market that identifying potential facilities is a puzzle that often cannot be solved.

I have been thinking for sometime now that locally we should adopt the method that Denver uses for adding charters. In that city the school district builds facilities for them.  But at the 2018 FOCUS Gala, Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, pointed out to me that the situation there is actually not working as planned.  For example, he pointed out that the Denver School of Science and Technology, a school I have visited that has essentially been able to close the achievement gap between affluent and poor students, has several charters in the pipeline ready to open but Denver Public Schools has yet to construct their homes.

Perhaps there is no solution to the charter school facility issue.

 

Mayor Bowser proposes increase to public school funding in an apparent move to shift narrative away from current controversies

Yesterday, Ms. Bowser released her fiscal year 2019 budget, and public education stakeholders are ecstatic that it includes a 3.91 percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  If passed, her proposal would raise the base of the UPSFF to $10,658 per pupil.  The reason for the enthusiasm is that last year a working group that convened over six months under the auspices of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to review the city’s school budget recommended a 3.5 percent increase.  However the Mayor, in last year’s spending plan, suggested a rise of only 1.5 percent.  The D.C. Council then took this number and doubled it to 3 percent.  The 2018 budget also included a 2.2 percent jump in the charter school per pupil facility allotment.

So why the sudden change of heart by Ms. Bowser? Well, a few issues have popped up over the previous 12 months.  It was discovered that the Chancellor she hired, Antwan Wilson, had one of his children transfer schools outside of the lottery and in violation of a policy he had created and signed.  This led to his forced resignation together with that of Ms. Bowser’s coveted Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles.  There are now allegations that the Mayor was told by Mr. Wilson of his discretionary placement months before it was known to the public.  At the same time, a WAMU and NPR story led to the realization that hundreds of students received high school diplomas from DCPS facilities in 2017 who never should have graduated.  Next, it was uncovered that more than half of all students attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts falsify their home addresses to show they live in the District so they don’t have to pay tuition.   A lawyer for OSSE was apparently told by higher-ups not to rush an investigation into this matter because it is an election year.

Finally, last week, there was the Mayor’s State of the District Address, in which she provided no solutions for the recent ills of DCPS, or an explanation of who she would bring in to fill her top two administrative education positions.  Tonight is the 2018 FOCUS Gala and Ms. Bowser is expected to attend.  Which do you think she would rather talk about, the recent problems with the traditional schools or more money for charters?

The new incremental dollars will also deflect calls for a modification of the structure of Mayoral control over the public schools.

The Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil, Perry Stein, and Faiz Siddiqui, in an article appearing yesterday, state that the added money for education is not that big of a deal.  They write:

“While some education watchdogs celebrated the per-pupil spending increase, Marlana Wallace, a policy analyst with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said it’s not as high as it appears. According to Wallace, part of that increase covers raises for teachers that came after the union reached a contract agreement with the city for the first time in five years.”

Moreover, before you get too excited about the extra revenue, I feel an obligation to point out Ms. Bowser’s 2019 budget also has a line item for $1.35 billion toward the modernization of another 26 DCPS buildings.  Charters do not get a dime of these funds.  They have to cover renovation costs out of the per pupil facility allotment.

 

 

 

 

Mayor Bowser wastes State of the District Address when it comes to public education

The Mayor was supposed to give last evening’s speech at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts.  It would have been the perfect symbol for how education reform on the traditional school side has fallen apart.  The building was recently renovated at a cost of $170 million which was $1 million more than its projected budget.  But a trio of calamities, including the finding that more than fifty percent of the students who attend Ellington do so without living in the District while falsifying their permanent addresses so they don’t have to pay tuition; drove the hasty decision to relocate the event to the University of the District of Columbia where it was staged last year.  The Administration put forth the excuse that there was better access to parking, the subway, and buses at this location.

If you are dying to know what Ms. Bowser said about the pressing topics of the forced resignation of her Deputy Mayor for Education and the Chancellor over the school placement of Mr. Wilson’s child outside of the lottery, the grossly inflated graduation rates of high school students, and residency fraud, I will provide a service by saving you the time of having to read her entire remarks before getting to the end where these subjects were discussed.  Here we go:

“In recent months, there have been bumps in the roads – frankly, there have been some mountains. But now the band aid has been ripped off, and we understand better than ever the challenges we face. . . I recognize that there is trust that needs to be rebuilt between our school system and parents, and systems of accountability and oversight that need to be reinforced and reviewed.  Under the leadership of interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander, we will finish this school year strong and be ready to start the next one.”

That is it.  Nothing about the search for a new Chancellor or who will be the next Deputy Mayor for Education, and not a word about steps that will be taken to correct the abject failures of “accountability and oversight.”  But more significantly, not one mention about charter schools that now educate over 43,000 children in the city, a number representing 47 percent of those in our public schools.

The 2018 FOCUS Gala is next week.  What a perfect opportunity this would have been to announce that she was turning over twelve former DCPS facilities for use by charters.  She could have added that she will make room for pupils from this sector in over a dozen other traditional schools that are severely under-enrolled.  The Mayor might have offered that she is the Chief Executive of Equality, and therefore will immediately seek to end the funding inequity lawsuit against the city by providing revenue in the same proportions to charters and the regular schools as the law demands through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.  Finally, she could have acknowledged the nationally recognized progress that charters in this town have made by stating that she will seek to emulate management of her schools by studying the work of these institutions and the DC PCSB.

I am so sorry.  It is extremely early in the morning, and I must still be dreaming.

DC public schools modernization could learn from charter sector

The Washington Post’s Joe Heim reports today that DCPS’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts will re-open next week after the completion of a renovation project that is $100 million over budget and a year behind schedule.  The total cost of construction is a staggering $178.5 million.  Only 575 students attend the school.

The newspaper goes on to explain that cost overruns such as the one at Ellington are more the rule than the exception when it comes to modernization of the traditional public schools, as was documented in a 2016 study on the issue by D.C. Auditor Kathleen Patterson.  From Mr. Heim’s story, “As Ellington’s budget surged to $178.5 million, spending plans for 35 other DCPS school modernizations grew from $586 million to $1.4 billion.”

Charter schools would love access to this kind of cash.  However, when it comes to capital expenses, even though charters are public schools just like those of DCPS, they are on their own to raise the money for school renovation.  The Mayor and the city council do not provide a dime, leaving it up to the per pupil facility allotment to cover the cost.  This is true even when a charter takes over a shuttered traditional public school facility.

So here’s how it works in the nation’s capital.  A charter is approved to open.  Then it must scramble to find a building, competing for space with other businesses in D.C.’s outrageously expensive commercial real estate market.  If it is able to secure a closed DCPS building, that space has typically been decimated by years of neglect.  Then the charter must pay to fix up the classrooms at its own expense and then pay the city to rent the structure.

Charters are severely limited in the amount of money banks will loan them for this type of work.  There is nothing magical here.  A charter school receives $3,193 per student.  The average charter school has 400 pupils.  This equates to about $1.3 million a year it has to repay a bank for a construction loan.  Charters usually allocate around 100 square feet per child.  Therefore, it needs a building that is around 40,000 square foot and, according to Building Hope, typically spends $150 to $250 per square feet to renovate the space.  For example, when I was board chair of Washington Latin PCS we spent $20 million, the most we could get a bank to loan us, to renovate the former Rudolph Elementary School in Ward 4.  The gym would have to wait to be built at a later date since this was all we could afford.  Latin spent about $267 per square foot on Rudolph or roughly $33,000 per child.  When it comes to Duke Ellington, it cost the city $310,000 per pupil.

Something must be done to even the playing field between charters and the traditional schools when it comes to access to facilities and their renovation.  After 20 years of public school reform in this town, we are no closer to a solution.

D.C. Council oversight hearing highlights charter school facility problem

On February 28, 2017 the D.C. Council’s Education Committee held a charter school oversight hearing during which it heard testimony from DC Public Charter School Board chairman Dr. Darren Woodruff.  As part of this exercise, the PCSB was asked a long and detailed series of 72 questions by the Council.  Part of this inquiry has to do with charter school facilities.  The answers were enlightening.

For example, charter schools now occupy 44 buildings that used to house DCPS classrooms.  However, there are another 64 charter school campuses operating in commercial spaces which means that taxpayer dollars are being paid to landlords instead of to the city as would occur if all of these schools leased shuttered traditional schools.   During this academic year two charters are co-located with DCPS.

Besides the 64 campuses that should be in government provided spaces because these are in reality public schools, there are another 13 schools that, since their lease is expiring, or because they have outgrown their property, or simply because the space doesn’t work, need to find new locations.  This gives us a total of 77 charters that should be in District provided sites.  Now comes the kicker.  Please see the response below to the one of the FY2016 Performance Oversight Questions:

“At the same time, there remain at least 10 unoccupied or underutilized city-owned buildings that would be desirable for public charter schools.  By DC PCSB’s estimate there is more than 1.6 million square feet of unused DC-owned buildings that could potentially be occupied by public charter schools.”

It is unfathomable that these buildings are being denied to charters.  Especially in light of the following observation by Dr. Woodruff in his testimony:

“This year, more than 41,000 students attend a public charter school.  And it  is important to emphasize, public charter schools educate a student population that is equally or at times more economically disadvantaged than the city average while outperforming the city averages in PARCC performance and graduating more students.”

I know that it is a Friday before a long holiday weekend.  But perhaps since the Mayor and city council members have returned from their junket in Las Vegas, they can figure out today how to provide our town’s public charter schools with the permanent facilities that they so desperately deserve.

Walton Foundation to help fund charter school facilities in D.C.

Today at the National Alliance for Public Charter School’s National Charter School Conference being held in Nashville, Tennessee, the Walton Family Foundation is to announce a $250 million initiative to help charter schools obtain and expand permanent facilities.  The goal of the program, according to Leslie Brody of the Wall Street Journal, is to add 250,000 seats in charters in 17 cities by 2027.  About 2.7 million students currently receive their public education in charters with over a million pupils on waiting lists.  In Washington D.C., charters educate almost 39,000 children with 8,500 trying to get in.  Excitingly, the nation’s capital is one of 17 cities that are being targeted by the Walton Foundation for charter school growth.

Ms. Brody goes on to explain that the great majority of the Walton funding will go to “low interest loans, offered by nonprofit lenders, for which charters will be able to apply.”  Of course, the obtaining of permanent facilities is the most significant obstacle charters face.  The search and acquisition of buildings often results in a needless distraction for charter leaders away from their focus on the academic progress of their scholars.  Many schools, due to the overwhelming difficulty in finding space, end up locating inappropriately and unfairly in church basements, warehouses, and storefronts.  The Wall Street Journal article quotes Marc Sternberg, director of Walton’s K-12 education program and one of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s deputy chancellors, as saying that the dollars will “level the playing field” for charters in many cities.

The Walton Foundation plan is to be administered by Civic Builders, a not-for-profit New York City developer.  David Umansky, the group’s CEO, states that the investment will allow charters to have broader access to commercial loans and other methods of borrowing.  The initiative comes on top of the $116 million the Foundation has given since 2003 to assist charters in gaining places in which to operate.

This morning’s revelation is not completely a surprise.  When I interviewed Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, a few weeks ago he informed me that a group of as many as 50 charter school stakeholders had been meeting to try and figure out a solution for the charter school facility dilemma.

The news comes on the 25th anniversary of the national charter school movement and during the 20th year of charters operating in Washington, D.C.  It could not arrive at a better time.  Our local sector has been stuck at teaching 44 percent of public school students for several years now and with more young families moving into the District there is an estimate that 50 new public schools will be needed within the next 10 years.