D.C. charter schools received $38 million in PPP money

Yesterday, the D.C. Council held an oversight hearing regarding DC Public Schools, the office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, and the charter sector. A few interesting items were brought up in the discussion involving DCPCSB chair Rick Cruz and the organization’s executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis.

First, it was revealed that charters in the nation’s capital have received approximately $38 million in federal government PPP dollars. I have argued in the past that it was wrong for these schools to apply because their funding stream was never disrupted. Here’s some of what I wrote on the subject last July:

“As I drive to work everyday during the week and see all of the businesses that are closed, I think about all of the people now without jobs. My own family has been impacted by the pandemic. To me, taking these extremely limited PPE dollars away from those who are trying to figure out how to put food on the table is nothing less than disgusting.”

However, there is an even more fundamental reason that schools should not take these grants. Remember the FOCUS engineered funding inequity lawsuit? For years charters spoke in value-based terms as to the unfairness of DCPS receiving $100,000 a year in city support that charters could not access. Now the positions are reversed and the traditional schools were prevented from applying for the federal program because they are part of the government and not individual LEA’s. So what did many charters do when faced with this dilemma? They took the extra cash.

This is in addition to the millions of dollars in revenue charters will receive from the Covid-related recovery bills Congress has passed and the extra money Mayor Muriel Bowser has included in her proposed fiscal year 2022 budget. I cannot keep up with all the funding. It should be noted that D.C.’s largest charter networks like KIPP DC PCS and Friendship PCS could not participate in the PPP because they have more than 500 employees.

What happened to the days when charters did the difficult but right thing and set a shining example for others to follow?

One final observation. Council chairman Phil Mendelson asked the charter representatives if they have heard anything about replacement for vacant DC PCSB board seats. As I wrote about the other day, Steve Bumbaugh’s term expired. It turns out that Naomi Shelton’s tenure has also ended but the thought on Tuesday was that she would be re-nominated. I’m not so sure. During one of the recent DC PCSB meetings a member of the public testified that Ms. Shelton should be prevented from voting on the approval of Wildflower PCS’s school applications due to a conflict of interest. The board investigated the complaint with the appropriate agency and determined that the charge was baseless. The discussion resulted in Ms. Shelton providing a long impassioned polemic regarding her work on the board.

If the Mayor needs a nominee for the DC PCSB I just want to mention that I am available.

D.C. public school awash in cash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mayor Bowser should provide D.C. charters with funds to cover crisis costs

Today, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein writes that some charter schools are considering applying for funds under the recently approved federal CARES Act. From her article:

“The $2 trillion federal relief package finalized last week, officially known as the CARES Act, includes nearly $350 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, a small-business loan program. The program incentivizes small businesses with fewer than 500 employees to keep their workers by covering about two months of paychecks for employees who make less than $100,000 annually. The businesses can have their loans forgiven if they avoid layoffs or pay cuts.”

I sit on the board of a nonprofit that intends to apply for PPP dollars because the money that normally supports this organization is not expected to come in. The result is that employees will almost certainly have to be furloughed. This appears to me to be the perfect use of the program. I imagine that businesses that have had to shutdown like restaurants and small stores whose employees are currently out of work would benefit from this aid.

However, charter schools are not in similar situations. They receive their money from the city government and that revenue stream is not expected to be interrupted.

This is not to say that charters are not currently experiencing a financial bind. Most are proving free breakfast and lunch to their students. In addition, schools have provided computers to pupils and internet access so that they can participate in distance learning.

According to Ms. Perry, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools and Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, have encouraged charters to submit a PPP application.

The Post reporter includes this comment by Mr. Pearson on the issue:

“There is a lot of uncertainty about the city budget. . . Absent of something like this program, we should expect layoffs from public charter schools, and the whole point of this program is to prevent these layoffs.”

I’m not so sure about the uncertainty. The District of Columbia had an estimated $500 million surplus at the end of its 2019 fiscal year. I think in a time of crisis Mayor Bowser and the D.C. Council should figure out how to come to the aid of these schools.

As we know, support for our public schools, both charters and DCPS, by law must come through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. However, I do not foresee a problem with establishing a special emergency grant plan that all schools could access. Already, a coalition of nonprofits and individuals have established the DC Education Equity Fund to assist schools with technology needs in the face of the coronavirus. The city could certainly augment this effort.

Desperate times require our representatives to provide strong leadership. By utilizing the city’s significant budget surplus to assist schools during this period we could let the federal government provide aid to those who no longer are receiving a paycheck.

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.

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.

Bowser administration admits that DCPS revenue outside of UPSFF is illegal

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed 2020 budget this week and it has some good news for charter schools. First, she is requesting that the charter school per pupil facility fund be increased another 2.2 percent to $3,335. This would be the second year in a row that this number would go up by this proportion. The jump is important, because as Two Rivers PCS’s executive director Jessica Wodatch explained at last night’s 2019 FOCUS Gala, the cost of construction in the nation’s capital is rising tremendously.

Still, I’m not quite sure about the Mayor’s strategy here. It seems like instead of turning over vacant DCPS buildings to charters she is encouraging them to rent space in the commercial real estate market. Wouldn’t it be preferable to have these schools lease from the city instead of turning taxpayer money over to developers? What am I missing?

In addition, the mayor’s budget blueprint also has the per pupil expenditure rising by 2.2 percent. However, Irene Holtzman, FOCUS’s executive director, stated that this number is insufficient:

“FOCUS is pleased that Mayor Bowser delivered on her commitment to increase the facilities allotment for public charter schools by 2.2 percent. The predictability of facilities funding is crucial to public charter schools as they plan to make needed improvements to their buildings or lease facilities to accommodate their student bodies. This is a wise long-term investment that helps ensure that the nearly 50 percent of students attending public charter schools have buildings that enhance, rather than hinder, their experience.
 
Simultaneously, we are concerned that the increase to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) falls short of the needs of all D.C.’s students. The 2.2 percent increase in the base UPSFF does not keep pace with the District’s funding pressures or inflation, and increases the gap between the current level of funding and the city’s own definition of funding adequacy as defined in the 2013 report Cost of Student Achievement: Report of the DC Education Adequacy Study.
 
In addition, a broad coalition of advocates for children and youth have been working diligently to ensure that our schools have the mental health supports they need to manage the level of trauma experienced by our students. Not increasing the funding to support at-risk students  will leave schools scrambling to ensure that our most vulnerable students have the supports they need to be successful in school.
 
We urge the D.C. Council to remedy this gap in funding by making at least a 3 percent increase in the UPSFF, and, better yet, funding a 4 percent increase that, if followed annually, could get DC to ‘funding adequacy’ in five years. In addition, Council should prioritize increasing the at-risk weight to enable schools to continue to grow and strengthen the wraparound supports we know our students both need and deserve.”

I did some poking around the budget and I stumbled on something fascinating. Embedded in the document is an admission from the Mayor that all public funding for both charters and the traditional schools must come through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Here is the exact language:

“The District’s public charter schools receive Local funding through the UPSFF. This system of funding was established by the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995 and was designed to ensure that all public schools across the District receive the same level of funding on a per-student basis, regardless of what neighborhood the school is in or where students live. The UPSFF is intended to cover all local education agency operational costs for District public schools including school-based instruction, student classroom support, utilities, administration, custodial services, and instructional support, such as curriculum and testing. The UPSFF is based on a foundation amount, which is then enhanced according to different weights for higher-cost grade levels and supplemental funding weights for students with special needs. The FY2020 UPSFF foundation increased 2.2% from $10,658 per pupil to $10,891 per pupil. The average cost per student, based on the proposed enrollment of 44,486 and a proposed gross budget of $898,494,213, is $20,197.”

In other words, the very argument that charters have been making for years that is contained in the FOCUS engineered funding inequity lawsuit against the city is affirmed in the administration’s own budget. Can we now settle this thing and reimburse charters for the approximately $100 million a year in revenue provided to DCPS that the other sector did not receive?

What is the next step?

For D.C. charter schools to survive they must remember they are part of a national movement others want ended

Washington City Paper writer Rachel Cohen has come out with her next in a series of articles meant to destroy our local charter school movement.  This one deals with the financial compensation that some school leaders are receiving. From her article:

“Summary statistics aside, the sector is replete with examples of steep salaries and quick raises. Allison Kokkoros, the head of Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School and the highest-paid charter official in D.C., received a 24 percent salary increase between 2015 and 2016, from $248,000 to $307,000. Then, in 2017, she received another 76 percent increase, bumping her compensation to $541,000. Patricia Brantley, head of Friendship Public Charter School, received a 33 percent raise between 2016 and 2017, increasing her pay from $231,000 to $308,000.

Outside of school heads, other high-ranking charter administrators also claimed significant salaries. In 2017, KIPP DC had four administrators making approximately $200,000 annually, and its president earned $257,000. The chair of Friendship, Donald Hense, earned over $355,000 annually between 2015 and 2017, and its CFO earned between $171,000 and $197,000 in each of those years. DC Prep’s Chief Academic Officer earned $203,000 in 2015, and $223,000 one year later. The board chair of AppleTree Early Learning earned over $231,000 annually each year since 2015, reaching $245,000 in 2017. 990 tax forms list another 110 charter administrators earning between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, although this list is likely not comprehensive, as schools are only required to disclose their top five highest-paid employees. 2018 figures are not yet available.

In one remarkable instance, Sonia Gutierrez, the founder and former CEO of Carlos Rosario, who now sits on the school’s board, earned $1,890,000 between 2015 and 2017. Board chair Patricia Sosa, when contacted about this large sum, says much of that had been awarded as deferred compensation from Gutierrez’s time working between July 2010 and December 2015. However, according to tax records, she was also paid an average of $326,000 annually during that period.”

I do not have sufficient information to say if these earnings are justified or not.  But I will make this important point.  Although charters were established in the nation’s capital over twenty years ago, there are still many people who wish they would go away.  The notion still exists that they are stealing money from DCPS and that charters are private schools run with public funds.  The issue is not unique to us locally.  For evidence of the hatred toward charters all you have to do is look at the inflammatory language that was targeted at them during the recent strike by teachers and their union in Los Angeles. Here is one key paragraph from the New York Times in a story written by Jennifer Medina and Dana Goldstein about the work stoppage:

“But the defeat in the court of public opinion is clear: After years of support from powerful local and national allies — including many Democrats — charter schools are now facing a backlash and severe skepticism.”

In order to reduce the likelihood of backlash and skepticism, all financial decisions at charter schools must be viewed through the lens that this information will end up on the front page of the Washington Post or the City Paper.  If the school’s action can withstand this level of scrutiny, then it is appropriate.  But if spending does not pass the smell test for being an ethical and market-based expenditure, then it needs to be abandoned.  No less than the future of our sector is dependent on making these calls correctly.

When I was a board chair I would open many of our meetings with a news article that described controversies involving charter schools.  I wanted the trustees to understand that they were part of something that others found distasteful.  Because of the political environment in which we operate, everyone involved with charters has to conduct business at an exemplary level of integrity.  It is a standard that as courageous professionals we should accept and embrace so that we can continue to provide the exceptionally high quality education our students deserve.