Reaction to D.C. Councilmember Allen’s charter school transparency bill has been highly disappointing

It is less than 24 hours since D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen announced he was introducing a bill to sidestep efforts by the DC Public Charter Board to increase the transparency of information available about the schools it oversees. The PCSB is set to vote on its version of a new policy as soon as this coming Monday. But at the urging of EmpowerED DC, a group which apparently over the last three-quarters of a year has been trying to impose open meeting and FOIA laws on our city’s charters, together with the American Federation of Teachers, Mr. Allen could not find a way to respect the work of the nation’s leading charter school authorizer and felt the need to circumvent their efforts. In the aftermath of his decision, I’m frankly disheartened by the reaction of our city’s charter public policy leaders.

Cordilia James and Ingalisa Schrobsdorff of WAMU state that the charter board referred to Mr. Allen’s proposed legislation as “misguided,” adding that it “fails to take into account the extraordinary transparency measures already taken by the Public Charter School Board … Nothing in this bill will help close the achievement gap, reduce the number of students living in poverty, or reduce truancy. We support a smart, reasonable approach that provides the transparency parents need, but does not divert school efforts, attention, and funds away from educating students.”

Next up is Irene Holtzman, the executive director of FOCUS. She commented, according to the WAMU reporters, “We’re already funded at just 70 percent of traditional public schools. Another unfunded mandate is unreasonable. Where is the focus on outcomes? How will these requirements help parents or anyone else evaluate how effectively and equitably all our public schools are serving students?”

It appears from these quotes that people are simply trying to change the subject. There is only one point that needs to be made at this crucial moment: stay out of our business. The School Reform Act is clear. The PCSB oversees charter schools in the nation’s capital. This is not the job of the Mayor, and certainly does not fall under the purview of the D.C. Council.

Perhaps the reaction to Mr. Allen’s law is a symptom of what is wrong with our local movement. By law, the city must turn over surplus DCPS facilities to charters, but when it refuses to do so there are no consequences. Charters are required to receive funding equal to the traditional schools through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. When this does not occur we reluctantly bring a lawsuit while prioritizing collaboration with the same individuals and groups who are biding their time setting up roadblocks in our ability to care for our students.

Where is Robert Cane when you need him?

Councilmember Allen aligns himself with teachers’ union fighting to end D.C.’s charter school movement

Today, D.C. Councilmember Charles Allen will declare his intention to introduce a bill that among other things will force charter schools to comply with open meeting and Freedom of Information Act regulations. He will announce his legislation, the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019, on the steps of the Wilson Building at 10:30 a.m., and will be joined by none other than Christian Herr, the Cesar Chavez Prep PCS science teacher who was behind the disastrous move to unionize the Bruce Building campus. Checking the Chavez calendar demonstrates that school is in session on this Wednesday. In fact, this week is Prep’s spirit celebration. I guess Mr. Herr is playing hooky.

The proposed law contains other requirements intentionally included to divert charter school attention from their mission of providing a world-class education to children, most of whom are living in poverty and are at risk of not making it alive to their eighteenth year.

Here a few disgusting nuggets:

  • Charter school boards must include two teachers and, in high schools and adult learning schools, must add a student;
  • Charter schools must include a list of all contracts in their annual reports;
  • The DC Public Charter School Board must make public all contracts initiated by its schools that are over $25,000 and therefore subject to a request for proposal, to include the vendor selected, and the reason behind the choice. It also removes an exemption for schools, requiring them to issue an RFP for contracting with management organizations. This provision is implicitly directed at the union’s declared enemy TenSquare Consulting but the unintended consequence of this rule will be to strongly discourage high performing CMO’s to come to our city;
  • Annual reports of charter schools must include the amount of money donated to a charter school by name when the contribution is over $500. Currently, those giving over $500 must be listed by name but not the specific number of dollars gifted; and
  • Charter schools must list the names of all employees and their salaries, also in the annual report.

A highly interesting bit of information about the draft directives is that they are a complete surprise to chairman Phil Mendelson and education committee chairman David Grosso.

Mr. Allen seems to know that he is doing something unseemly. In his press release about today’s event he writes, “Still, recognizing that charter schools are structured and run differently than traditional schools, the bill includes measures to evaluate any administrative challenges so the Council and the Mayor can adjust in future years.”

The evaluation he is referring to is just another unfunded mandate on charters. The initial year this statute is in effect, schools would need to report to the Council the number of FOIA requests they have received and the expenses related to complying with them.

The one glaring advantage charters have in this situation is that the D.C. Council has no authority over them in regards to the specifics of Mr. Allen’s rules. So now this representative has drawn a red line in the sand over the self-determination granted to charters as part of the 1995 School Reform Act.

Who will be brave enough to defend charter school autonomy once and for all. FOCUS? The DCPCSB? Education Forward DC? CityBridge Education? Charter Board Partners? PAVE? Democrats for Education Reform?

Those of us who believe in educational freedom will be watching.