D.C. charter schools should not accept CARES Act funding

Yesterday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein followed up on her original April 2nd article anticipating that D.C. charter schools may apply for federal funding aimed at aiding those who have not been receiving a paycheck due to business interruptions around the Covid-19 virus. At the time I made the case that these schools should look to the city and nonprofits to cover additional incremental costs they may be experiencing due to this crises.

In her most recent story Ms. Stein states that Statesman College Preparatory Academy for Boys PCS and Digital Pioneers PCS applied for CARE Act dollars and have received them. Both schools defended their decision to the reporter. She sought comment from Steve Hardnett, the founder and executive director of Statesman, who she wrote received a loan of $300,000:

“Hardnett had been relying on private funding until his school hits full capacity in two years. Most of his grants are set to lapse at the end of the academic year, and he had been searching for new private funding. But he says that won’t be possible now, and the federal funds will allow him to keep his staff through the summer and provide his students with extra academic services he says they will require once distance learning concludes.

‘Every dollar we find we should get into this building,’ Hardnett said.”

Digital Pioneers chief executive officer and principal Mashea Ashton justified her move to the Post this way:

“The school is concluding its second year, she said, and has high overhead costs, which private donations have enabled the school to afford. She said she spent money during the health emergency on technology and distance-learning training for her teachers.

‘If we don’t have these resources, then I would have to let go my P.E. and art teachers, and those who are not full time with us,’ she said. ‘And those positions are essential to delivering our mission.'” 

Ms. Perry revealed that DC Bilingual PCS and Paul PCS applied for the emergency financial support and did not receive it. She added that Friendship PCS and KIPP DC PCS have more than 500 employees and so are not eligible for the federal money. The reporter then listed a number of charters that she stated she asked as to whether they sought to participate in the program but did not respond to her inquiry.

I know that both the DC Public Charter School Board and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools have encouraged charters to submit applications doe to the added expenses they have faced and uncertainly over future income. However, let me be as clear as possible. This aid was intended to help those small businesses that are unable to meet their payroll obligations because their revenue streams have been cut off. This is not the case for charter schools. District funding has not ended.

Ms. Perry states that several companies that have been won this cash have decided to return it such as Shake Shack and Ruth Chris Steakhouse. I think charter schools should follow this example. Any assistance that our schools need during this extremely difficult period should come from our local leaders.

Pandemic points to huge gap in online learning between D.C. charters and DCPS

The Washington Post’s Perry Stein delivered some startling news the other day regarding participation rates for DCPS with distance learning in the face of the Covid-19 virus:

“The attendance records look bleak. At an elementary school in Northeast Washington, just 50 percent of fourth- and fifth-graders are logging on to watch the PowerPoints that their teacher spends hours building each weekend. A special-education teacher in Northwest Washington said she’s struggling to schedule individualized virtual meetings with her students, many of whom have working parents who do not speak English and have never before used the school system’s Microsoft platform.

Sean Perin’s fifth-grade students at Garfield Elementary in Southeast Washington have parents who report to work each day at restaurants, stores and medical facilities, leaving their children with older siblings or relatives during the day. He said he has heard that at least two of his students have lost relatives to the virus. . .

The Washington Teachers’ Union surveyed its teachers last month to determine student participation. Fifty-seven percent of the 2,000 teachers who responded — around half of the teacher workforce — said less than half of their students are participating. Teachers at more affluent and more selective schools said attendance has been strong during remote learning.”

This is not what the charter sector has found. Teaching 47 percent of all public school students in the nation’s capital, equivalent to 43,393 scholars, these schools are reaching exceptionally high numbers of those enrolled. On May 1st the DC Public Charter School Board released data regarding the number of students with whom they have not been able to communicate. Here is its conclusion:

“There are 1,334 students in the charter sector that schools have not made contact with since school buildings closed due to the pandemic, based on an analysis conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board. Of those, 119 students are special education (8.9%); and 363 of the unreachable students are adult education students.”

The overall percentage of those who have not been able to be engaged with is 3.1 percent. For special education students the proportion is 1.9 percent.

It is an astonishing accomplishment. It is especially heartwarming to go to school websites and see the resources they have assembled for parents. As an example here is one from Ingenuity Prep PCS, a preKindergarten three to seventh grade school located in the center of Ward 8:

“Ingenuity Prep is committed to supporting student learning during our school’s closure caused by the COVID-19 virus. This page will be updated regularly throughout our closure with materials and resources to support the continued academic growth and development of our students. Check back for updates and more resources. We will also be keeping in touch with our school community through our regular school messaging platform – SignalKit. Should you not find the answer to your question on here, you can: 

Email us: distancelearning@ingenuityprep.org

Call us: (202) 562-0391″

To be fair, Ms. Stein quotes DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee as claiming that “Ninety-six percent of our students have engaged in some way. . . Instead of logging into a learning session, a student may be doing virtual meetings with a counselor or a school psychologist. When we talk about engagement, we’re not just talking about teaching and learning.”

In these exceptionally challenging times I am so proud of our teachers who have adapted to this new world as the professionals that they are. They are all heroes.