Tremendously inspiring D.C. charter movement End the List rally

Last Thursday morning at Washington, D.C.’s Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center over 1,000 charter school students, teachers, and their supporters gathered in a call to action for Mayor Bowser to release empty surplus former DCPS buildings for use by the city’s public charter schools. As I scanned the expansive room with my eyes I saw not an empty seat. Overflow members of the audience had to stand along the back of the space and up and down the entrance stairs in order to get a glimpse of the activities.

The two hour perfectly choreographed program made it extremely difficult to turn your attention away from the front of the stage. There were student performances by Rocketship Legacy Prep PCS students together with those of the Friendship PCS Collaborative Choir. At one point on the agenda KIPP DC College Preparatory PCS pupils became the cast of “Newsies: the Musical.” My wife Michele and I had seen Newsies just last week at Arena Stage and I can safely say that the scholars of KIPP are definitely ready for primetime.

Toward the end of the session the Mary McLeod Bethune Day Academy PCS Drumline proceeded from the rear of the hall to the front. The sound so engulfed the area that the guests had no choice but to jump to their feet in thunderous applause.

Emotions, as demonstrated on the faces of the crowd, were riding exceedingly high. This was due to the purposeful interweaving of prepared remarks by esteemed members of the charter school community, together with student performances, combined with several snippets from the documentary “Open Doors Open Minds“. It was a trifecta of activities that resulted in numerous opportunities for those seated to lift up their “I love Charter School” signs high above their heads and cheer in unison.

Dr. Ramona Edelin, executive director DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, was the emcee. She introduced comments by Rick Cruz, chair of the DC Public Charter School Board; former Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu; Shawn Hardnett, founder and executive director Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS; and Dr. Howard Fuller, of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning.

Throughout the gathering there were constant reminders on two large screens positioned on either side of the dais of the approximately 12,000 students currently on a charter school wait list. The wait list exists in large part because the city is holding onto more than a million square feet of property in the form of shuttered DCPS facilities that by law should have already been turned over to charters. One of the most moving parts of the schedule was when pictures of the exteriors and interiors of many of the 14 vacant school buildings were projected. There they were for all to see, image after image, of structures that could be serving our kids right now.

Mr. Cruz spoke eloquently about his days growing up as a child in the Bronx, N.Y. He remembered vividly watching on television Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. On the program he recalled Mr. Rogers repeating over and over again that “anything big started out small.” He made an analogy to the dreams that the pupils in front of us have that we must ensure have the chance to blossom. Of course, Mr. Cruz intoned, these dreams may never become a reality if these individuals cannot get into our charter schools due to a lack of adequate classroom space.

The remarks of Senator Landrieu especially impressed me. She talked from her heart about this country’s efforts to provide equity in education to our kids. However, with her voice rising, she extolled the fact that there is no equity when students go to schools that lack cafeterias, science laboratories, libraries, gymnasiums, and playing fields. Ms. Landrieu is of course referring to charter schools that, due to the lack of access to permanent homes, are often located in warehouses, church basements, and storefronts.

I feel that my duty as a recorder of these types of events is to share the participant’s remarks directly with you the reader. In this case, however, I will not be successful. It turns out that this terrible travesty of justice that has been taking place in our nation’s capital for over two decades regarding the lack of appropriate charter school facilities has so enraged the morning’s speakers that they felt no need to write down prepared remarks. This was true of the passionate comments of the Senator and it is also the case with Mr. Fuller.

Anytime Howard Fuller is at a lectern there is a one hundred percent chance that people will become riled up, and so it was the case on Thursday. Dr. Fuller reflected that he liked the strong show of support he was witnessing in front of him to wrestle closed buildings away from the traditional school system. But he admonished the crowd that if this effort ends with the conclusion of this gathering then it will all be for naught. The intensity of his will traveled through each and every person’s molecular structure as he reminded us through the words of civil rights icon Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle there is no progress.”

The organizers of the End the List rally know exactly to what Dr. Fuller is referencing. D.C.’s charter movement has not in the past seen a coalition come together for a common cause as it did four days ago. Every group involved in promoting, supporting, and improving our charters was represented. The Center for Education Reform, with the tremendous assistance of others too numerous to mention, did much of the facilitating. But the man who was the fountainhead of this perhaps once-in-a-lifetime effort was my hero and friend Josh Rales. Mr. Rales, together with the Rales Foundation, has for years now been toiling quietly but fervently behind the scenes to do what he can to provide every child who needs one an exemplary education in the District of Columbia. I caught up with him before most others had arrived and asked him to reflect on his undertakings:

“I’m happy to support children,” Mr. Rales related, “to go to the school that they and their parents want them to attend. However, the Mayor is holding onto the supply of surplus DCPS schools that by law need to go to charters. We need these buildings so that we can end the wait list of 12,000 students seeking slots in our charter schools. These schools that have been allowed to sit and deteriorate will be renovated with private capital that will improve blighted neighborhoods of our town.”

It was an overwhelmingly amazing day.

Bowser administration reacts to End The List campaign with misleading facts

D.C.’s Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn recently released a report entitled “Citywide Landscape of Former DCPS Facilities Remaining in Educational Use or Government Owned” which is a clear attempt to blunt the attack on Mayor Bowser’s administration regarding the withholding of more than 1 million square feet of surplus DCPS space that by law must be turned over to use by charter schools. The criticism is the recent focus of the DC Association of Chartered Public School’s End The List campaign and the Open the Doors of Opportunity effort led by the Center for Education Reform.

The DME’s publication is highly misleading. It claims that there are only three schools, for a total of 385,000 square feet, that are currently empty and “undergoing DCPS programmatic review.” The document states that these buildings have not been deemed “excess” according to D.C. law. The former traditional schools are Langston, closed in the mid-1990s; Spingarn High School, shuttered in 2012; and the Winston Education Campus, also closed in 2012. If these schools cannot be classified as excess, then I do not understand what structures will ever land in this category.

The report lists seven schools that have been turned over to entities for other purposes. There are another 16 buildings classified as being occupied by District agencies. One of these is Ferebee-Hope that is being offered to charters through a request for proposal.

Strangely missing from the schools listed in the addendum to the government’s study are Hine and Randall, two of the five former DCPS sites that Ms. Bowser turned over to private developers.

We also do not see any data on the DCPS schools that are operating with significant under-enrollment that could be used for charter school co-locations.

There is only one overriding theme that one comes away with after reviewing this material. If Muriel Bowser wanted to, she could provide a permanent facility for every charter school that needed one. Instead, after 20 years, charters are still struggling to identify adequate space in which to operate. The search is a major distraction from the mission of educating children, and is a significant contributor to the continuing presence of an academic achievement gap in our city that is currently at about 65 points. It is the largest one in the nation.

It appears crystal clear now that there is only going to be one way to ensure that empty DCPS structures are turned over to charters. This will be through the courts. Who will have the guts to take up this challenge?

DC charter board about to approve two new school campuses

Last night the DC Public Charter School Board held its monthly meeting and it was one of the least controversial sessions I have witnessed in years. The session started with former PCSB board member Sara Mead receiving the organization’s Distinguished Service Award. Ms. Mead served on the board from 2009 to 2017. Here’s what I wrote when she stepped down:

“Yesterday was also the final board meeting for PCSB member Sara Mead as her term is up after eight years of volunteer service.  She will be missed as she consistently provided a rational and thoughtful voice, especially in her specialty area of early childhood education.”

On the agenda was Rocketship PCS, which is seeking to open its third location in the District in the Fort Totten area of Ward 5 during the 2020 to 2021 school year. Not discussed on Monday evening was the fiasco Rocketship created when it tried to create a school in this same area in 2018. The charter had 22 students enrolled for the additional location only to find that it was unable to secure a facility. The parents of the children that had signed up scrambled to find spots at Rocketship’s existing Ward 7 and Ward 8 sites a couple of months before the term was to begin. This mess represented the third instance in which Rocketship delayed constructing classrooms in the District. Following the experience a couple of years ago, the charter board required Rocketship to come before it regarding expansion plans with a proposed lease. Rocketship has met this condition through an agreement to rent property from the Cafritz Foundation.

The representatives from Rocketship appeared to have alleviated fears that it has not properly engaged with the local community before moving into a new neighborhood. This was a criticism the public leveled at the school regarding its first two locations. It certainly helps that its Legacy Prep in Ward 7, servicing in 2018 about 100 pre-Kindergarten three through third grade students of which three-quarters are classified as at-risk, scored a 94.6 percent as a Tier 1 school on the Performance Management Framework the very first time it has been graded on this tool. It’s Rise Academy school, teaching 527 pre-Kindergarten three though fourth grade pupils last year, ranks as a high Tier 2. Look for the additional campus to be approved.

Proceeding the discussion about Rocketship, Richard Wright PCS for Journalism and Media Arts was up to discuss moving to a different location during the second half of the next school year. The charter has outgrown the “Blue Castle” where it has operated the last eight years, and the building is about to be redeveloped. The school is seeking to move to 475 School Street SW, also in Ward 6 as is its current address. The proposed property is quite a bit larger than its present campus, coming in at 62,500 square feet versus its existing 42,500 square feet. The upgraded site, which will provide an auditorium, media studio space, and a dance studio, will cost $2,000 more per student than the school currently spends. This raised concerns by the board, especially in light of the fact that Richard Wright successfully completed a Financial Corrective Action Plan in 2017. Dr. Marco Clark, the school’s CEO, testified that Richard Wright will be able to meet its operating budget by enrolling additional students and subleasing space to another charter. The board requested a revised budget representing these revenue projections, and, as with Rocketship, I anticipate this amendment being granted without difficulty in October.

On a purely philosophical note, I found the questions the members of the PCSB asked regarding future cash flow at Richard Wright to be perfectly appropriate and consistent with its role as a board. Why then could it have not initiated a similar line of inquiry when problems first surfaced regarding student safety issues at Monument Academy PCS?

Mayor Bowser releases surplus DCPS building to charters. Mayor Bowser releases surplus DCPS building to charters

I will start with an apology. I’m sorry, but I just had to write the headline twice because the news is so stunning. After being in office for almost five years, D.C. Mayor Bowser has finally released a surplus DCPS building for use by a charter school. Last Friday, a request for proposal was sent out for the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School in Southeast. The RFP comes as the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools initiated a public relations campaign entitled End The List, which includes a high quality produced video and radio advertisements with the expressed purpose of pressuring Ms. Bowser to release the over 1 million square feet of excess or under-utilized DCPS classroom space so that the almost 12,000 students on the charter school wait list can gain access to the school of their choice.

The theme of the End The List campaign should be easily recognizable by readers. Time and time again I have argued that Ms. Bowser is flagrantly disobeying the law by failing to provide a first offer to charter schools for vacant traditional school buildings. She even added insult to injury when in 2018 she turned five shuttered facilities over to developers instead of for use by our children so that that they could further their public education.

The most striking fact for me in the video is that this Mayor has much catch up homework to do if she strives to match her predecessors’ record in support of a educational marketplace. It points out that Anthony Williams turned 13 vacant DCPS sites over to charters. Mayor Fenty did the same with 12 facilities and Mayor Gray answered with 14 of his own for a total of 39. Did I mention that for Ms. Bowser this is the first?

Word on the street is that DC Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, and KIPP PCS will bid on the proposal. Odds are that the liberation of this property was intended to provide a location for KIPP’s second high school.

What a prize this campus would be. The site includes 447,780 square feet. The school building itself takes quite a dent out of the remaining extra DCPS footprint in that the school building has 193,000 square feet. The project would also involve renovating a recreation center at this location that includes an indoor pool, an athletic field, basketball courts, a pavilion, and a playground. I already know of one charter that will forgo competing for this land due to the tremendous costs associated with this endeavor. The idea that the city would turn over all of these structures so that a nonprofit can expend desperately needed funds to fix them up and then pay rent to occupy them has to be the sequel to the book Catch 22.

The RFP adds the following information about the school:

“Ferebee-Hope was constructed in 1974 and first opened its doors to students as Washington Highlands Elementary. In 1990, it was renamed Ferebee-Hope Elementary to honor Dorothy Boulding Ferebee, a physician, humanitarian and community leader, and Marion Conover Hope, a community activist, youth advocate, lawyer, author, and internationally recognized social worker. Ferebee-Hope closed in 2013, though portions of the building have recently been used as swing and temporary space by DCPS. The main educational space received a “Phase 1” modernization in 2009, in which essential building systems were upgraded and replaced. The Ferebee-Hope Recreation Center is an active DPR recreation center. Current programming offerings include swimming lessons, boxing, and fitness classes. The baseball field is also utilized for Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy. There is a community garden onsite as well as a playground.”

Responses to the RFP are due by 5:00 p.m November 5, 2019. I’m feeling optimistic today so I’m assuming the flood gates are now going to open to many more empty, rotting away structures being transferred to charters.

D.C. Mayor Bowser fails AppleTree Early Learning PCS

Today, the editors of the Washington Post follow-up on their column from June pointing to the travesty regarding AppleTree Early Learning PCS’s inability to secure a location for its Southwest campus that had been operating on the site of a DCPS facility. They write:

“Monday marks the start of a new academic year for the District’s public schools. Sadly, one school that won’t be opening its doors to students is the AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter. Thanks largely to the indifference of D.C. government, the school is without a facility for its highly acclaimed preschool program. That means 108 children, mainly African American and from economically disadvantaged families, won’t be able to benefit from a program that focuses on closing the achievement gap before kindergarten.”

The controversy was previously written about here. The location was taken away from AppleTree because of a renovation planned for DCPS’s Jefferson Middle School. If this project had been delayed by a year, then AppleTree could have been able to continue to teach at this site until its permanent home was ready next school term. Instead, the city turned its back on the charter school by its refusal to either allow it to continue at its present venue or find it an alternative.

This extremely depressing situation comes in the larger context of the Mayor holding onto over a million square feet of excess DCPS square footage that should be turned over to charters according to the law.

We now understand what is taking place here. If Ms. Bowser were to provide surplus buildings to charters, then the share of students attending these alternative schools would almost certainly go up. During the 2018 to 2019 school year, charters taught 47 percent of all public school students, equating to almost 44,000 pupils. Together with her Deputy Mayor of Education’s plea that the DC Public Charter School Board not approve the recent 11 applications it received for new schools, there is a concerted effort to make sure that charters do not exceed the fifty percent market share compared to the traditional schools on her watch.

I spoke not too long ago about the work of the Denver School of Science and Technology PCS’s reliance on emphasizing particular values in its successful effort to close the academic achievement gap. Here’s what the school’s CEO Bill Kurtz commented on the subject:

“We’re not just about compliance. We’re actually about building a values-driven culture with all of our students, so that they all understand what it means to live a set of values. They may not choose our values over time, but hopefully they will learn to choose a set of values that will guide them in the way that David Brooks would say are the eulogy values, the values that really matter in how you live your file – what you care about when you look back on your life.”

We hope that starting today both charter and DCPS schools that are opening their doors will focus on academics while helping to promote the values that will lead their children to a highly successful future. Mayor Bowser should follow this example and do the right thing when it comes to facility issues facing our charter school sector.

Bowser Administration defines limit of D.C. cross sector collaboration

Recently, the editors of the Washington Post described the highly depressing situation regarding the Southwest campus of AppleTree Early Learning PCS. For the past five years the school has been located in trailers owned by AppleTree on the site of DCPS’s Jefferson Middle School. Jefferson is in the process of undergoing modernization so AppleTree has been informed that it must vacate the property this coming July. The charter, after undergoing a typically frustrating facility hunt, has secured a permanent home but it will not be ready until the following school year. The Deputy Mayor of Education Paul Kihn has refused to delay the construction project and has been unable to identify another temporary site for AppleTree, while actually referring to the leadership of AppleTree, my hero Jack McCarthy, as “irresponsible” regarding this matter. Here’s the Post’s view:

“Perhaps AppleTree could have done more, but that raises the question of why the city doesn’t feel more of a sense of responsibility for preserving what it agrees is a top-flight program. AppleTree provides not simply day care but data-driven instruction designed to help disadvantaged students, for whom a good start in school makes a critical difference. If these were traditional public school students, there would be no question of finding them space.”

We have really never known D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s feelings toward charter schools because, as far as I know, she has never publicly provided her opinion. But we can now get a clear picture of her view through her actions. In the face of the Public Charter School Board considering the applications of 11 new schools, her Deputy Mayor for Education (notice that the job title states that this position is FOR education) stated that there was already excess capacity even though tens of thousands of students lack access to a quality seat. Recently, Ms. Bowser released the Ferebee-Hope Elementary School for re-purposing, but blatantly failed to follow the law in placing it out for bid to charters. Now we have the case of AppleTree, in which the response to a crisis for 100 three and four year old children from low-income households who attend a Tier 1 charter is to throw them out on the street.

For the past two years, Ms. Bowser has increased the per pupil charter school facility fund by 2.2 percent. This is appreciated but does little good in a city that now has no places in which charter schools can apply this revenue. Unfortunately, more money will not make this problem go away. Unless the city turns over its million square feet of vacant or under-utilized DCPS buildings over to charters, our children will suffer.

For D.C. charter schools the war is on; but there is no war

Over the weekend the Washington Post printed an opinion piece by Jack Schneider entitled “School’s Out: Charters were supposed to save public education. Why are Americans turning against them?” The article offers a highly slanted negative view of the charter school movement that contains inaccuracies that have been easily negated by my public policy friends. Mr. Schneider wrote:

“The charter school movement is in trouble. In late December, the editorial board of the Chicago Sun-Times observed that the charter movement in the Windy City was ‘in hot water and likely to get hotter.’ Among more than a dozen aspirants for mayor, ‘only a handful’ expressed any support for charter schools, and the last two standing for the April 2 runoff election both said they wanted to halt charter school expansion. In February, New York City’s elected parent representatives — the Community and Citywide Education Councils — issued a unanimous statement in which they criticized charters for operating ‘free from public oversight’ and for draining ‘substantial’ resources from district schools. A month later, Mayor Bill de Blasio told a parent forum that in the ‘not-too-distant future’ his administration would seek to curtail the marketing efforts of the city’s charters, which currently rely on New York City Department of Education mailing lists.”

It is all par for the course.

To understand the current environment around charter schools here locally you have to be aware of the obstacles that have been established in an effort to ensure that parents have a limited option as to where to send their kids to receive a premier educational experience.

First, there are no buildings available for charter growth and expansion. Although these are public schools the city is under no obligation to provide them with space as it does when DCPS creates new facilities. I believe it has come to the point in which charter enrollment will freeze because there is nothing whatsoever in the market to lease or purchase. This despite the fact that there is currently 1.3 million square feet of vacant or under-utilized real estate that the traditional schools possess but will not turnover to charters in violation of the law.

Then there is the funding inequity issue. Charters receive an estimated $100 million a year less in revenue than the traditional school are provided by the city. Under the School Reform Act charters and DCPS are to be provided with the same dollars through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Yet even in the face of a FOCUS engineered lawsuit on this matter the government will not budge. The Mayor will not even engage with the institutions that educates almost half of all public school students, approximately 44,000 pupils, regarding a discussion on this topic.

We are also facing an attempted labor union infiltration of charter schools. First it was attempted at Paul PCS, then at Cesar Chaves PCS, and now at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS. Please do not be fooled. None of this has to do with transgressions by school administrators or the needs of teachers or parents. The union is trying to obtain a footing in our sector in order to kill it off once and for all.

While all of this is going on charters are educating scholars minute by minute according to the highest standards they can offer. Many of the children housed in their classrooms are the ones regular schools have turned away. They rarely even consider the insurmountable obstacles in their path. The situation is terribly unfair. The message charters are receiving on a daily basis is do your best tirelessly without adequate classroom space, funding, and with the introduction of a third party grossly interfering with the trust that has been established between staff and leadership.

There has got to be a better way.

Now that D.C. charter board has approved 5 new schools city must provide them with facilities

At the May monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board, five new schools were approved to begin teaching children during the 2020 to 2021 term. While these nonprofits have reached an important milestone in being given the green light to open, their most difficult challenge still lies ahead. They must now enter the hunt for a facility. As they signup to work toward this goal with Building Hope or TenSquare they will quickly find out, if they have not already been told, that if their aim is to rent commercially available real estate in the nation’s capital they can cross this option off the list. There is nothing available.

Early in the creation of the charter school movement in the District, the charter school facility allotment was created that provides dollars to acquire space based upon the number of students a school enrolls. The facility fund has played a crucial role in helping charters obtain temporary and permanent buildings. But now this fund is outdated since there is nothing left to lease. Imagine the savings that our local government could realize by ending this revenue stream. With 43,911 pupils in charters and a facility allotment that is projected to increase to $3,335 per student next fiscal year, D.C. spends almost $150 million of its budget on this expenditure. The cost could certainly be significantly reduced to a level adequate for charters to cover building operating costs.

Charter schools should have never have been burdened with the task of converting warehouses, offices, storefronts, and churches for use as classrooms. The city has a moral obligation to provide them with sites as they do for other public schools. Charter schools are in fact public schools.

A year ago a letter Mayor Muriel Bowser sent to Senator Ron Johnson indicated that there is over 1.3 million square feet of “vacant or significantly underutilized DC-owned former DCPS facilities.” More recently, in a memorandum from Paul Kihn to PCSB chair Rick Cruz that attempted to freeze the number of charter schools, the Deputy Mayor for Education reported that DCPS is running at 70 percent of capacity on average at its schools. Therefore there is plenty of room for the five new charters. Vacant DCPS properties need to be transferred to the charter sector and other addresses with empty desks must be utilized for co-location.

Charter schools are public schools. It is past time for the Mayor to immediately turn over these excess structures to charters. Ms. Bowser, provide us with the keys. Today.

D.C.’s charter school facility problem has reached the crisis phase

Yesterday, WTOP’s Rachel Nania chronicled the recent facility woes of Eagle Academy PCS as it tried to find a new location after being informed that its Capitol Riverfront campus would be turned into condominiums. According to Joe Smith, Eagle’s CEO/CFO:

“We tried for several years to find a location here in Ward 6, but all of that had been purchased by developers on speculation, so that even when we looked at a bare strip of land or a building we could knock down, somebody else had already bought it.”

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the impact of the facility hunt has on the quality of academics at charters. In 2018, Eagle Academy’s Capitol Riverfront campus went from Tier 1 the year before to Tier 2 on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework tool. The impact was even greater on its Congress Heights location, which saw a drop from Tier 2 in 2017 to Tier 3. The amount of time and energy spent on trying to secure a permanent location cannot be underestimated.

Last week, Mr. Smith was given a one year extension for the school at its current location. But this only delays the problem for another 12 months. Ms. Nania quotes Building Hope’s Dominique Fortune as commenting about D.C.’s charter schools, “They’re not going to be able to afford to stay in the space that they’re in, but there isn’t really an alternative or any place for them to go.”

Another associate at Building Hope perfectly captures the issues now facing charters in trying to find space in Washington, D.C.’s hot commercial real estate market. Remarked Jerry Zayets, “So essentially, you need to convince someone that, ‘Hey, I’m going to put a tenant in the building that’s going to be loud, and there’s going to be noise and traffic and pickups and drop-offs. Oh, and I’m also going to pay you $12 less (per square foot) than market rent.’ That’s not a compelling argument to a commercial landlord.”

So with renting space in a commercial building out of the question, the only alternative is to set up shop in a surplus DCPS facility. But this too is not an option. Since Mayor Bowser came into office in January 2015, no former DCPS buildings have been awarded to charter schools. At least ten properties currently stand empty. Many more current DCPS classroom spaces are severely underutilized.

It looks like the anti-charter people may get what they want after all. There is now an effective moratorium on charter schools expansion in the nation’s capital for one reason only. There is no place for them to go.

Is there no one out there that can help?

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.