Lack of transparency by charter leaders will lead to D.C. Council transparency bill passage

I have spent considerable time listening to the testimony of charter school supporters before the D.C. Council last week regarding the bill proposed by Charles Allen that would require these schools of choice to adhere to the open meetings law and force them to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. I’m frankly not impressed. It appears that the unspoken strategy that our side employed was to advance the argument that this legislation would do nothing to improve the quality of the education that children are receiving. It did not work. In fact, I feel that we simply allowed those in favor of these requirements to offer the consistent line of reasoning that since charter schools are receiving taxpayer money they must be responsive to the public’s desire for as much information about their operations as is available, just as is the case with any government entity. However, charter schools are not part of the government.

We should have taken a different approach. What we did not explain, and there was plenty of evidence to make this point, is that charter schools in the nation’s capital are under attack. We could have shown through the power of the printed word that there are people out there, specifically certain reporters, that appear to be on a mission to see these schools vanish from the face of the earth. We could have quoted articles that have gone after the salaries of school administrators, have criticized as evil an organization whose mission is to turnaround low performing institutions, and that have bemoaned schools for contributing financially to organizations established to defend their integrity. We could have illustrated the efforts of teachers’ unions to undermine our existence.

DC Public Charter Board executive director Scott Pearson came closest to offering the line of reasoning that I am proposing. He stated:

“We recently received a request made asking for all emails DC PCSB staff have sent with a lengthy list of recipients going back to 2015. A preliminary search returned an estimated 3.2 million pages of responsive documents. So far, we’ve been able to narrow the request to 1.9 million pages, but the requestor has been largely unwilling to work with us on reducing it any further. We estimate this will take three employees working full time over a year to review all of these documents. Imagine a school dealing with this, and the diversion of resources from student facing work.

Another recent example is a multi-part request that we completed. This request ultimately took nearly 500 hours of staff time to complete. That amounts to one staff member spending 12 and a half work weeks focusing on this issue alone. I would also note that, under current law, there is a very high threshold for a request to be considered overly broad or onerous.”

We should have shouted that if you pass Mr. Allen’s legislation, that on the face of it appears well intended, the open meeting law and FOIA will become a weapon in the arsenal to shutter the charter movement. Make no mistake about it. Schools will be targeted and there will be nothing they will be able to do in the face of these new requirements.

A shinning light came in the form of the remarks by Shannon Hodge, the co-founder and executive director of Kingsman Academy PCS. I reprint them below:

“Good morning, Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso, and members of the Council. I am Shannon Hodge, co-founder and executive director of Kingsman Academy, a public charter middle and high school in Ward 6. This morning, I would like to share a few thoughts about the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. I have testified before you on several occasions regarding how charter schools in general are transparent and how Kingsman Academy specifically takes additional steps to open our operations and decision-making to important stakeholders. For example, our board meetings are open to the public and we announce them on our website. We have a Faculty and Staff Advisory Council that meets regularly to share their concerns and suggestions and provide feedback and perspective on initiatives under consideration. We utilize student and parent focus groups to make sure that we are responsive to stakeholders’ questions and concerns. And with the Transparency Hub of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), we can be assured that the public has access to relevant financial, performance, policy, and procurement information in a clear, straightforward manner.

Despite this level of access, I have seen very little family or public interest in the routine governance matters of my school. Although every one of our board meetings since May 2015 has been open and publicly posted, we have had members of the public or school staff appear only twice: once to present a proposal to the board and once to observe a board meeting as part of our accreditation process. The types of sensational headlines that may appear once per school year in the city do not reflect what typically happens at our board meetings. And, unfortunately, I do not know that anything in the legislation before you will prevent those headlines. Adding constraints on those meetings and requiring certain people to be on those boards only adds to the bureaucracy.

I have four specific asks as you continue to consider this legislation. First, I ask that you not substitute the DC PCSB as a de facto central office for charter schools. The DC PCSB is not equivalent to District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). It does not operate any schools. Its primary responsibility is to determine whether charter schools stay open based on the goals that we have adopted and agreed upon in our charters. Asking the DC PCSB to provide technical support and assistance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) clouds its role and our work. As it currently stands, charter schools pay the DC PCSB millions of dollars per year to support its work. Kingsman Academy alone pays more than the equivalent of what we would pay a full-time teacher’s salary and benefits to the DC PCSB on an annual basis. Your requiring the DC PCSB to provide assistance with this legislation will inevitably lead to the cost of that support being passed along to charter schools. Please do not punish schools by adding costs that our funding cannot support. Instead, set up a special purpose revenue non-lapsing fund for compliance with this legislation.

Second, I ask that you talk to school leaders, especially of small, single-site charter schools like Kingsman Academy, to hear directly how this proposed legislation will affect us and to use that information to refine the bill. With past legislation, such as the school discipline bills led by Councilmember Grosso, this Council very deliberately engaged school leaders over a period of time to strengthen the proposals.

Third, I ask you to consider the provision of this legislation that would define the boards of public charter schools as public bodies for FOIA purposes. Will the city cover our legal bills related to FOIA compliance, as it does for other public agencies? If you are willing to consider us as public bodies for this purpose, are you also willing to provide the 11 percent match to our teachers’ retirement contributions as you do for DCPS? Are you willing to pay for modernizing the buildings that we own?

Fourth, I ask you to consider whether the problems you are trying to address with this legislation are actually served by it. As I think about the DC students who are dying due to gun violence, the disparities in student performance for students with disabilities and the students designated as “at-risk”, this legislation seems to call your attention away from the most significant problems facing schools in this city.

Thank you for your time and your attention to this matter. “

Testimony of Scott Pearson, executive director of DC PCSB, regarding the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019

Yesterday, Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, testified before the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Education as part of a public hearing on the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019. I am reprinting his remarks today with commentary to follow in future posts.

Chairman Mendelson, Chairman Grosso, Councilmember Allen and councilmembers, thank you for inviting me to speak today on the issues of transparency and accountability for our city’s public charter schools. I am Scott Pearson, Executive Director of the Public Charter School Board.

The Public School Transparency Amendment Act would require public charter schools to be subject to the DC Open Meetings Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and several other requirements.

As I testified in June on another piece of legislation, we support the requirement that board meetings of public charter schools be made public when discussing expansion, budgets, or closure. We believe that there need to be a few closed session exemptions to account for areas where public charter schools as independent 501(c)(3)’s are different from government entities. This includes exemptions for information concerning individual students or staff or matters that would materially affect their competitive position in relation to other schools. By adding clarity to the law, it will benefit both the school’s boards, families, and staff.

To me, transparency is an essential part of the public charter school concept. It goes hand in hand with flexibility and accountability.

The question for me is not whether charter schools should be open and transparent. The question is what is the best way to achieve this end. Our primary goal is that our schools ensure students perform well academically. We have worked for years at the Public Charter School Board to make more information available to the public in the smartest way possible.

• When it comes to how public charter schools spend their money, every public charter school is subject to an annual audit by a third party certified public accountant approved by a committee of the Public Charter School Board, the OCFO, and OSSE. Those audits are published on our website, along with schools’ IRS tax returns and their annual budgets. Each is verified and accessible to anyone who wants to take a look. In addition, we require schools to break down their expenditures into four categories – occupancy, personnel, student support, and administration — so that school expenditures can be compared with each other on an apples to apples basis. This report is released to the public through our Financial Analysis Report.

• Looking at school operations, performance and governance, we post schools’ charter goals, their student handbooks, average high and low teacher salaries, academic data, student commute maps, enrollment and demographic data, annual reports, at-risk funding plans, and contact information for the school’s board. This year we are adding to this board of trustees meeting calendars, including which meetings are open to the public, approved school board meeting minutes, the current salaries of the five most highly compensated individuals in the organization, and the contact information for key staff.

• We post on our website extensive information about our oversight of each school, including a school’s five- or ten-year review and renewal reports, equity reports, performance reports, compliance review reports, and detailed writeups from our classroom observations.

All the information I’ve just described is publicly available and easy to locate on our website. We’ve tried to include everything a family would want to know about a school. If there is more information folks want, we are certainly open to discussing how we can make that available.

I have noticed that many have been conflating “transparency,” with FOIA. FOIA is a tool of transparency, one which we believe is inappropriate to apply towards small, independent 501(c)(3) organizations. It is a blunt instrument that will do little to provide families with the information they need and want while having the potential, through its cost and time demands, to take resources away from the school quality goals we all share. If our goal is transparency, FOIA misses the mark, especially for families with limited time and resources.

Years ago, policymakers decided to address the issue of sunshine in public charter schools by making DC PCSB subject to FOIA. As a result of working closely with schools across all issue areas, we can provide most, if not all, of the information sought after by the public. We receive requests from all types of citizens including journalists, academic researchers, union representatives, parents, and teachers. For FY 2018, the sum of requests totaled 73. This year, we have already surpassed that number.

But the number of requests only tells part of the story. The key metric in assessing a FOIA request is the scope. Some freedom of information requests are narrow and can be completed in under an hour. However, larger requests can take hundreds or even thousands of hours to complete and have the potential to paralyze a small organization. This is where our overall concern lies.

In recent months, DC PCSB itself has received multiple requests that encompass hundreds of thousands of responsive documents and will require hundreds of hours of review. There is a multiplier effect on the staff cost and hours. Documents must generally be reviewed by multiple staff members, including those with a legal background, to ensure that no protected student data or other confidential or privileged information is accidentally released.

Let me provide two recent examples:

• We recently received a request made asking for all emails DC PCSB staff have sent with a lengthy list of recipients going back to 2015. A preliminary search returned an estimated 3.2 million pages of responsive documents. So far, we’ve been able to narrow the request to 1.9 million pages, but the requestor has been largely unwilling to work with us on reducing it any further. We estimate this will take three employees working full time over a year to review all of these documents. Imagine a school dealing with this, and the diversion of resources from student facing work.

• Another recent example is a multi-part request that we completed. This request ultimately took nearly 500 hours of staff time to complete. That amounts to one staff member spending 12 and a half work weeks focusing on this issue alone. I would also note that, under current law, there is a very high threshold for a request to be considered overly broad or onerous.

I would hope most schools would not regularly receive requests like these. In fact, some schools may not receive any requests at all. But I would also expect schools experiencing turmoil, the schools that can least afford to spend time digging through and reviewing emails and other documents, will be the ones impacted.

Since many schools do not have an in-house legal team, much of the work of information gathering and review will fall on teachers and staff. Therefore, most will need to work with outside attorneys who are not on school email systems, and do not have the ability to search through the communications of staff. In practice, this means the work of searching will likely be performed by the teachers whose work is implicated by the request. The results will then be sent to the legal counsel to apply any exemptions and redactions, at a substantial hourly fee.

There are more effective and efficient ways to satisfy the public’s desire to understand the work of public charter schools. FOIA will not give families information on their student’s performance or IEP decisions they can’t already obtain under federal law. FOIA will not improve communication between families and schools. FOIA will not help a family understand a budget. FOIA may not even produce deliberative emails between board members, which will be searched, reviewed, and ultimately redacted.

The harmful effects of FOIA go beyond the trouble of searching and reviewing documents and emails. As members and staff of the Council know only too well, the presence of FOIA inhibits free and open electronic communication. This makes decision makers less able to engage in the kind of open electronic communication that allows organizations to operate at peak performance.

The process of FOIA takes time and focus off students and off the operations of the school. And this is the fundamental issue we have with this bill: it will do nothing to improve student achievement; instead, it will make it harder for schools to be truly excellent. We honestly believe that FOIA will not further the cause of quality schools and instead result in school spending hours and dollars that could otherwise be spent on students for a gain in transparency that we believe will ultimately be negligible.

With this reality in mind, I ask that we work together to identify inaccessible information and figure out ways we can make that public instead of subjecting individual schools to this catch-all tool of FOIA. In the long run, it will be more helpful for schools to give families and communities specific information rather than inundate them with thousands of pages of irrelevant documents.

Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019

Before I conclude my testimony, I would like to turn my attention to the Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019 to express my support. As an independent authorizer, DC PCSB is required to hold each public charter school to high standards — we must not only hold school leaders accountable for academic success, but also ensure they are acting in the best interest of all students attending the school.

Over the next two school years, DC PCSB will conduct a high-stakes review of 29 different public charter schools. Some of these reviews could result in a school closure.

Closing a school and settling its finances is a complex process that requires robust oversight. During the public charter school closure process, our oversight of school operations is hampered by the fact that the school’s charter has already been revoked or non-renewed. Our ultimate leverage is gone. As such, it becomes more difficult to address issues that may arise during the school’s wind-down period, such as those involving the school’s expenditures and finances; oversight of school personnel; and cooperation with the transition efforts of the acquiring school in the event of an asset acquisition.

The ability to impose conditions will help DC PCSB perform its oversight obligations more effectively during a closing school’s final months of operation. Importantly, DC PCSB will be better able to safeguard public funds that a school might otherwise use inappropriately. For example, we could impose a condition that all of a school’s expenditures over $10,000 would be subject to DC PCSB approval, which could prevent a school leader from receiving a golden parachute. Those funds, if otherwise unspent, would go back to OSSE and be redistributed upon dissolution of the school.

The proposed bill will also help the DC PCSB ensure positive outcomes for students in the closing school, including helping those students enroll in a high-quality school for the following school year. For example, we could require that schools hire more staff if there is an uptick in safety incidents. We could require schools to offer retention bonuses to teachers or employees to help ensure students finish out the school year in a safe and stable environment. We could demand that schools turn over contact lists to our enrollment specialists or require schools to allow us to send enrollment specialists to school property to ensure families are apprised of their options.

I know I usually appear before you to advocate for preserving school autonomy, and I recognize this bill goes in the opposite direction. However, it applies only in the narrowest of cases – specifically those few months between when the board votes to close a school and when it actually closes its doors and winds down its operations. We believe it will considerably improve our ability to safeguard public funds and ensure better outcomes for students in closing schools.

As the sole charter authorizer in our nation’s capital, DC PCSB has been long committed to providing families, students, and the public with information on public charter school performance. That is why we collect and publish so much detailed information about every single public charter school in the District. DC PCSB remains committed to working closely with schools across all issue areas, to provide most, if not all, of the information sought by the public in the interest of what is best for students. Thank you again for this opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions.

We have to stop playing politics with our children

An extremely sad article appeared in the Washington Post yesterday by Michael Kranish detailing the strong relationship Senator Cory Booker once had with Betsy DeVos revolving around their mutual support of private school vouchers and charter schools. They first started working together on education reform beginning in 1998 when Mr. Booker was asked by Ms. DeVos and her husband to speak on a panel in support of a Michigan ballot initiative backing choice. The Senator and Ms. DeVos ending up serving together for years on two boards of directors that promote school vouchers, and, as recently as 2016, Mr. Booker appeared before the American Federation for Children, an organization chaired by Ms. DeVos. The two were friends and allies. According to the Post:

“Booker spoke proudly about the growing number of students in Newark’s charter schools, saying, ‘This mission of this organization is the mission of our nation. . . . I have been involved with this organization for 10 years and I have seen the sacred honor of those here.'” 

Then in 2017, in an apparent bid to align himself with the views of the Democratic party so that he could increase his chances of becoming the group’s nominee for President, Mr. Booker voted against confirming Ms. DeVos as the United States Secretary of Education. Again, according to the Post:

“In a dramatic 2017 Senate floor speech, Booker opposed DeVos’s nomination to be Secretary of Education, saying he had ‘no confidence’ in her stance on civil rights issues, without mentioning their prior work together on pro-voucher groups.” The address lasted 45 minutes.

Mr. Booker now states that he changed his mind on school vouchers when he became Mayor of Newark, New Jersey in 2006. According to Mr. Kranish the Senator has recently referred to some charter schools as “really offensive” and “republican schemes.”

Coming up on Wednesday in the nation’s capital, there will a D.C. Council hearing on Charles Allen’s bill to increase charter school transparency. Of course, this legislation includes a requirement that charters adhere to the open meeting law and comply with Freedom of Information Act requests. Given the current political environment I have little faith that this act will be voted down, although the impact on charters could be devastating.

So I have a question this morning. If Mr. Allen’s initiative, which has nothing to do with transparency and is actually completely about the efforts of teachers’ unions to end the city’s charter school movement, passes will our city’s charters have the bravery to refuse to comply?

Let’s see whether our schools are really ready to support our children.

Teachers’ union is flooding D.C. charter board with Freedom of Information Act requests

The D.C. Council returns to business from its summer break next week and high on the agenda is consideration of Mr. Charles Allen’s bill to force our city’s charter schools to comply with the open meetings law and the Freedom of Information Act. So if you want to get a taste of what these changes would mean for individual schools, just take a peek at what the DC Public Charter School Board is going through right now.

As a government entity, the PCSB already complies with FOIA requirements. Apparently, the American Federation of Teachers is filing nonstop requests with the charter board. The body has recently spent over 65 staff hours to fulfill seven solicitations. The final bid for documentation comes in at over 14,000 pages.

Here was the editors of the Washington Post’s view of Councilmember Allen’s charter school legislation last April:

“We are firm believers in sunshine in public matters, but this legislation — which seems to be taken from the national teachers union playbook on how to kneecap charter schools — is not designed to benefit the public or help students. It ignores the fact that the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s 123 public charter schools, is already subject to both the open-meetings law and freedom-of-information requests. The board, which has earned national renown for the rigor of its standards, requires charters to disclose financial information, including how they use resources from the government and what they accomplish with those resources. Charters participate in state testing and federal accountability programs, and the charter board leads the way in providing comprehensive evaluations of charters and the job they do in educating students.”

The PCSB is apparently not taking this union abuse sitting down. According to education reporter Rachel Cohen, yesterday she was told by one of her sources that the charter board has decided it will no longer waive fees that it is permitted by law to charge for FOIA submissions. The source, who is almost certainly the AFT since Ms. Cohen is so union friendly, has been informed by the board that it will cost $3,500 “to finish fulfilling their records request.”

This is a fantastic move. The teachers’ unions have one mission regarding charters, which is to see them disappear from the face of the earth. But this activity from the AFT is highly worrisome. Could you imagine what would happen to our schools, which are characterized by exceedingly small administrative staffs, if they had to face a similar attack?

We must mobilize our local charter school movement to say enough is enough. Council members must not go along with Trojan Horse legislation that is proposed as a benign measure to increase transparency but is in reality a poison pill meant to torpedo the performance of our esteemed institutions.

The time to act is now.

Washington Post finally comes to defense of charter schools but does not go far enough

Today the editors of the Washington Post come to the defense of D.C.’s charter schools in opposing the transparency law introduced by Council member Charles Allen. They point out that due to the popularity of these public schools with parents, this city’s charters have been able up to this point to escape the attacks that have characterized this movement in other localities. However, with the introduction of Mr. Allen’s statute the situation has now changed. They write:

“The opening volley in this effort is legislation being promoted as a well-meaning effort at transparency and accountability. Sponsored by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the measure would subject the independent nonprofit charter schools to the open-meetings and Freedom of Information Act requirements that apply to D.C. government entities.

We are firm believers in sunshine in public matters, but this legislation — which seems to be taken from the national teachers union playbook on how to kneecap charter schools — is not designed to benefit the public or help students. It ignores the fact that the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees the city’s 123 public charter schools, is already subject to both the open-meetings law and freedom-of-information requests. The board, which has earned national renown for the rigor of its standards, requires charters to disclose financial information, including how they use resources from the government and what they accomplish with those resources. Charters participate in state testing and federal accountability programs, and the charter board leads the way in providing comprehensive evaluations of charters and the job they do in educating students.”

First of all the Post has it only partly right. Charters in the nation’s capital have not been subject to the same false diatribe that these schools in other cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, have experienced. However, we just went through a horrible and highly distracting unionization episode at one of our oldest networks. The editors seem to have had this recent escapade on their minds when they were constructing their piece:

“It is telling that one bit of information sought in the legislation proposed by Mr. Allen — who seems not to have consulted with charter officials and declined to discuss the bill with us — is a listing of the names of all charter school employees and their salaries. It’s hard to see how that’s critical to student learning but easy to see how it might help unions in their bid to organize at charter schools.”

In addition, the newspaper’s editors say nothing about the bill being advanced by education committee chairman David Grosso that contains its own transparency requirements. They observe that charters receive only 70 percent of the funding of the traditional schools, and therefore having to answer to Freedom of Information Act requests would be burdensome for their small administrative staffs. However, the data required to be shared by Mr. Grosso also imposes an unfunded mandate on this sector. The Council should worry about the academic performance of the 48,000 students that are enrolled in DCPS facilities and leave the charters to the DC Public Charter School Board. This body has its own list of onerous reporting requirements.

U.S. Education Secretary goes bold on D.C. voucher plan; others go weak

Another Democratic Congress, another chance to attack the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the private school voucher plan for kids living in poverty in the nation’s capital. Last week, the Washington Post’s Jenna Portnoy revealed that D.C. Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton, together with the the House Oversight and Reform and Education and Labor committees, wrote a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeking information expressing concerns about the OSP. According to the reporter:

“Lawmakers said they want to ensure that federal civil rights laws and safety regulations apply to students in the program, according to the three-page letter to DeVos from Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), Education Committee Chairman Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-Va.) and Norton.

They requested details about schools participating in the program, including whether they are accredited, whether they are religiously affiliated, how much of their funding comes from the voucher program, whether they have tested drinking water for lead, how many students are disabled and English-language learners, and how many students did not graduate or transferred to another school.”

The questioning comes as Ms. DeVos has moved to increase the number of vouchers awarded to low-income students by raising the budget of the program from its current $45 million dollars a year to $90 million.

The legislative SOAR Act that contains funding for the OSP has been supported locally by Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson because it provides equal dollars to private school vouchers, charter schools, and DCPS, following the three-sector approach championed by the late businessman and philanthropist Joseph E. Robert, Jr. Ms. Portnoy includes in her article the following reaction from the Bowser Administration regarding a challenge to the OSP:

“The program ‘has been instrumental in supporting the District’s three-sector approach on education by providing more opportunities and choices for our students and families,’ Bowser spokeswoman LaToya Foster said in a statement. ‘We have called on Congress to reauthorize and fully fund [it] so that we have the resources we need to continue ensuring every family in every neighborhood has a fair shot at high quality educational opportunities.’

Choices for families are needed now more than ever. The 2019 D.C. lottery just concluded, so we are expecting anytime this year’s charter school student wait list data. However, for the 2019-to-2020 school term there are 9,437 students on DCPS wait lists and last year there were over 11,000 pupils wanting to get into charters who could not. Having your child admitted to your desired public school continues to be a tremendously frustrating experience for District of Columbia families. Ms. DeVos is on exactly the right track.

Not so brave are those trying to defend charters from those that want to see them become a part of history. The latest assault comes in the form of a Trojan Horse complaint about the lack of transparency around charter school board meetings and finances. The D.C. Council has gotten into the act in the form of a bill introduced by Charles Allen that would force a long list of unfunded mandates on charters. In reaction, last week Council Education Chairman David Grosso brought forth an alternative that would force charters to comply with Open Meeting laws and detail expenses for all to see. The legislation is supported by all the remaining council members and, incomprehensibly, by FOCUS. My god, didn’t we just recently close a charter school in part to rid our movement of union activity? Couldn’t someone have similar guts to tell the Council to stay out of a school sector over which it has no authority?

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.