D.C. Council Chairman Mendelson breaks law when it comes to at-risk student funding; move applauded by DC Charter School Alliance

A few days ago, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed a move by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson to increase the amount of money going to at-risk students as part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. Here’s the background:

The reporter states that at-risk students are “those who are homeless or in foster care, whose families qualify for food stamps, and students who are in high school and have been held back at least one year,” and they “account for about 47 percent of the city’s more than 95,000 public school children.” Ms. Stein adds that “The funding in the regular education budget for at-risk students amounts to an extra $3,000 each and is intended to alleviate the effects of poverty, which can make learning more challenging. The money could be used to pay for extra reading specialists, music teachers, or extended day programs.”

There have been calls by others, such as the organization DC Students Succeed, to increase the weight in revenue that schools receive for instructing at-risk students through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. It is the UPSFF that provides the extra $3,000 per pupil that Ms. Stein references. Mr. Mendelson took a different strategy. Again from the Washington Post article on this issue:

“The funding proposal — which the council must approve a second time as part of the city’s overall budget process — would spread an additional $41.6 million over four years across nearly 170 traditional public and charter schools. Unlike most targeted education funds, the money would bypass the school system’s central office and go directly to principals, giving them control over how to spend money on staff and services that could improve student outcomes.”

Ms. Stein explains how it would work:

“Mendelson’s proposal would give extra funding to schools that have a population of at-risk students that exceeds 40 percent. Schools that have populations of at-risk students that exceed 70 percent would receive even more. For example, Savoy Elementary has 265 students. Of those, 225 — or nearly 85 percent — are considered at risk.

In all, the school would receive more than $98,000 under the proposal. That’s on top of the approximately $3,000 each of the 225 at-risk student is allocated through the typical budget process.”

Mr. Mendelson is trying to address an issue that has plagued the traditional public school system. According to Ms. Stein:

“But numerous investigations and reports have determined that the city often spends this money incorrectly, using it to pay for routine costs instead of on programs to supplement basic school offerings. In some instances, that’s because many schools with high concentrations of at-risk students are under-enrolled and smaller schools are more expensive to operate. These schools’ budgets don’t stretch as far as the budgets for larger schools, so principals end up spending the money on basic staffing that other schools can cover with their baseline budgets.”

Here’s the problem. The 1995 D.C. School Reform Act that created charter schools in the District mandates that funding for all public school students go through the UPSFF. Here’s a summary of the law included in the Adequacy Study completed in 2013:

“The requirement that education for all students be funded on a uniform per-student basis, with the dollars following students into and out of whatever school they attend, was enacted into DC law in 1995. The UPSFF was established to carry out the mandate. The formula calculates funding based on students and their characteristics, not on school or local educational agency (LEA) differences. This uniformity requirement applies only to local funding, not to federal or private funding. It affects only DCPS and public charter school operating budgets, not capital budgets and investments. The UPSFF is intended to fund all traditional school-level and system level operations for which DCPS and public charter schools are responsible, including instructional, non instructional (facilities maintenance and operations), and administrative operations.”

Ms. Perry states in her article that Chairman Mendelson referred to his at-risk student funding proposal “the ‘single most important’ new idea in the fiscal year 2023 budget.” The only problem, however, is that the move is illegal in that it directly contradicts the language contained in the School Reform Act.

But breaking the law is obviously not important to the DC Charter School Alliance as long as it involves more money to its schools. The organization tweeted “Thank you @ChmnMendelson & @councilofdc for supporting students with an increase in funding for education! . . .Creating two new concentration weights to support schools serving higher populations of students designated at-risk”

I noticed that the Council also appropriated $300,000 to perform a new Adequacy Study, which is something I called for the other day. Perhaps this new report will call out the serious error Mr. Mendelson made in his effort to help at-risk students.

Time for a new D.C. schools Adequacy Study

The other day I read a statement by Shannon Hodge, executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, calling for the Deputy Mayor for Education to complete a revised Adequacy Study. I could not agree more.

The last one was released in 2013 and it was groundbreaking. The research behind the report demonstrated that the District of Columbia was shy 40,000 quality seats, and it mapped the locations were new high performing classrooms were needed. But the most astonishing part of the work, lead by then Mayor Vincent Gray and my favorite Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, was that it put into print for the first time by the government the fact that charter schools were receiving inequitable funding compared to DCPS. The document pointed out that this was true because although all schools, charters and traditional, were funded at the same level through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, DCPS took advantage for free of government services, such as legal, information technology, and building maintenance, that charters could not access. It was a line of reasoning advanced for years and at every opportunity by Robert Cane, the prior head of Friends for Choice in Urban Schools. Mary Levy went on to quantify this disparity to be about $100 thousand to $125 thousand dollars a year.

The blatant unfairness continues unabated today and led to Eagle Academy PCS, Washington Latin PCS, when I was chair of its board, and the DC Association of Chartered Public School to sue the city to try and recover the revenue; a legal action that was eventually dismissed. Attorney Stephen Marcus led the effort. It was not something that charters wanted to do; we believed we had no other choice.

In addition, the 2013 study was extremely comprehensive in nature in that it tried to figure out exactly what the funding level of the UPSFF should be to eliminate the academic achievement gap in our town. It looked at each component of the per pupil allotment, including the much discussed weight for teaching at-risk students.

A lot has changed over nine years and much has not. The amount of tax revenue going to the two education sectors has gone up tremendously, now projected to exceed in fiscal year 2023 2.2 billion dollars annually. However, with this cash has not come the solution to the inequity that all of us involved in education want desperately to solve. When we do get around to testing our children it is almost certain, especially after two years of pandemic learning, that the difference in proficiency between the affluent and poor of 60 points has only increased.

It is imperative to perform another adequacy study. Let’s determine what the proper UPSFF should be. We should uncover how many quality seats the District needs to provide each and every scholar an exceptional pedagogical experience. How will we react if the number comes back again at 40,000?

DC Charter School Alliance names Hall of Fame members: where is Patricia Brantley?

As part of Charter School Week, over the past few days the DC Charter School Alliance has been announcing additions to the Charter School Hall of Fame. First created by Friends of Choice In Urban Schools back in 2016, the Hall of Fame was formed “to recognize the key individuals whose contributions have helped shape DC’s thriving charter sector.” If ever there was someone that needed to be added to this esteemed group it is Patricia Brantley, the chief executive officer of Friendship PCS. Here are just a few sentences from Ms. Brantley’s biography on the Friendship website:

“Patricia oversees all operations at Friendship, has secured more $95 million in public and private funding, effected cohesion among the 12 campuses, and established the Friendship Teaching Institute as a model of professional development. She spearheaded the takeover of Washington’s first multi-campus charter management group, ensuring that hundreds of children could remain in their school of choice.”

Ms. Brantley moved up to CEO at Friendship after serving as its chief operating officer. Here’s what I wrote about that tenure when I interviewed her six years ago:

“Her accomplishments during her dozen years at the charter school as chief operating officer include transforming Collegiate Academy to create a school with college-level courses.  She arrived in September and by January she had brought Advanced Placement and pre-Advanced Placement courses to the campus.   She led the development of teacher quality initiatives that includes Fellows, Professors, and Master teachers.  Ms. Brantley also supports the development of school leaders by encouraging their attendance at Relay, a leadership training program.  During her tenure, she expanded Friendship to include Southeast Academy, Technology Prep, Friendship Online, and Armstrong campuses.”

As I have watched her work, I see Ms. Brantley as a savior to D.C.’s charter school movement. When charters get in trouble and are fighting for their existence, Ms. Brantley comes to their rescue, like a superhero swooping in at the last minute to challenge evil. It started with the takeover at Community Academy PCS, proceeded to Ideal PCS, and most recently expanding Friendship’s online school to medically fragile students desperately needing a virtual option. When the William E. Doar, Jr. PCS for the Performing Arts (City Arts and Prep PCS) was closed by the DC Public Charter School Board, she brought its program into Armstrong PCS. After multiple safety issues came to light at Monument Academy PCS, and it appeared that the most vulnerable children in the nation’s capital would literally lose their homes, she engineered a takeover by the Friendship Foundation. Finally, after the PCSB could not see past fear from Mayor Muriel Bowser to open Capital Experience Lab, a new middle and high school charter, Ms. Brantley brought the exciting pedagogical approach to learning into Blow Pierce PCS. She had been serving on its board of directors. Ms. Brantley sets the blazing example of what true leadership looks like.

Actually, when the DC Charter School Alliance started to announce their inductees into the Charter School Hall of Fame, Ms. Brantley’s name should have been first.

D.C. charters about to spend 25K per pupil; they want more

In March, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed fiscal year 2023 budget. As she has done consistently during her tenure as the city’s chief administrator, Ms. Bowser has increased the Uniform Per Student Funding formula, the baseline that determines how much a school is paid to educate a child for a year, this time by a gigantic 5.87 percent. Her recommendations also include a 2.2 percent jump in the charter school facility allotment. With these augmentations, assuming that the same number of students enroll next term as did in 2022, then the amount that the District spends on teaching one student each term enrolled in a charter school is approximately $24,500. According to the Education Data Initiative, in this country only New York State, at $25,500 per student, spends more.

An organization called DC Students Succeed, a group of over forty groups that work with children, including many charter schools and the DC Charter School Alliance, say the Mayor has not gone far enough. They have a number of recommendations. They call on the Council to add more cash to the UPSFF. The per pupil facility allotment should go up by 3.1 percent. They also want the at-risk weight to improve to 0.37, a number included in the 2013 Adequacy Study, as opposed to the 0.2 number advanced by the Mayor. By the way, the coalition views the term “at-risk” as “pejorative, inaccurate, and inadequate.” They would rather it be changed to “equity weight.”

But wait, there is more. Some schools lack mental health clinicians. A new citywide center is needed for immigrant students so they can navigate our public education system. Increased funding should be allocated for training Black and brown professionals to go into teaching. A program should be created to reduce teacher student loan debt. Initiate a Homeowner Resource Center to steer educators toward affordable housing programs. Form a Public Educator Housing Assistance Program similar to the existing District Employer Assisted Housing Program. Add money to Out-of-School programs to the tune of $25 million. The list is frankly exhausting. You can read the fifteen page details of the requests here.

The calls for more money comes as The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is running television advertisements attacking the U.S. Education Department’s proposed new rules around its charter school support programs. Commented president and CEO Nina Rees, about the move, “This is a sneak attack on charter schools that is politically motivated by special interests seeking to benefit the adults in the system and not the children and families in our country who are clamoring for better education opportunities. Why is the Biden Administration listening to everyone except families?”

If these stipulations are enacted I have no doubt that they will severely limit if not completely block charters from accessing the $440 million annually appropriated by Congress toward new school openings and expansion. However, the commercials make it appear that somehow our movement is entitled to these grants. I would much rather see alternatives to the federal government for financial support. When dependent on the government it is simply too easy for politics to get in the way, which is exactly what we are seeing in this case. The conversation around charters really needs to be focused on improving the quality of public education. With all this talk about money, it appears that the box that the child is standing on to watch the baseball game in the infamous equity cartoon is filled with dollar bills.

It’s time for an independent Office of the State Superintendent in the nation’s capital

There are two bills being debated currently in the D.C. Council regarding the reporting structure for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education in the District of Columbia. One suggestion is to have OSSE fall under the purview of the State Board of Education. This legislation should be dead on arrival since it reminds me of the terrible old days when the Board of Education contributed to our town having one of the worst run school systems in the country. No one wants to go back to those days.

However, the second proposal, authored by Councilmember Mary Cheh, comes out of more recent controversies around DCPS that arose four years ago. Beginning in November 2017, the traditional schools faced a trio of problems that came in quick succession. First, a study by WAMU and NPR found that many seniors attending Ballou High School should never have graduated. From their report:

“An investigation by WAMU and NPR has found that Ballou High School’s administration graduated dozens of students despite high rates of unexcused absences. WAMU and NPR reviewed hundreds of pages of Ballou’s attendance records, class rosters and emails after a DCPS employee shared the private documents. The documents showed that half of the graduates missed more than three months of school last year, unexcused. One in five students was absent more than present — missing more than 90 days of school. . . Another internal email obtained by WAMU and NPR from April shows that two months before graduation, only 57 students were on track to graduate, with dozens of students missing graduation requirements, community service requirements or failing classes needed to graduate.”

Then in February 2018, Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson resigned after the D.C. inspector general had found that with Ms. Niles’ assistance one of Mr. Wilson’s children had bypassed the school lottery to gain admission to Wilson High School. She had been enrolled at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts but was not happy there.

That same month the Washington Post reported that OSSE had discovered that as many of half of the students attending the Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts lived outside of D.C. but were claimed to be residents so the families would not have to pay tuition. The story stated that a lawyer at OSSE told officials in his organization to slow the fraud investigation “because of the risk of negative publicity during a mayoral election year.”

These incidents point to the problem of having OSSE report to the Mayor who also controls the traditional public schools. As Ms. Cheh indicates in her proposed legislation:

“However, in 2007, with the passage of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (“PERAA”), the SEO became the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, a change that came with much greater responsibility. OSSE took over a
number of responsibilities previously handled by the Board, including developing state-level standards and assessments, grantmaking, and, importantly, oversight of the District’s public schools. In addition, under PERAA, control of DCPS shifted from the Board of Education to the Mayor. For the first time, the District’s state level oversight body and its public school system were subordinate to the same person—the Mayor.

For this reason, OSSE is unlike any other state-level oversight body in the country. In every state, school districts answer to state-level education authorities, which are empowered to audit all school data and demand corrective action where an audit identifies areas of concern. In no other state does the state-level oversight body report to the head of a school system it oversees. This conflict of interest compromises the work of our Superintendent, risking the public’s trust in the integrity of our school data. Unfortunately, the effect of this conflict of interest on OSSE’s work is not merely speculative. In recent years, there have been concerning reports regarding OSSE’s oversight of our public school data, and failures to adequately identify errors or misrepresentations in data on student attendance, suspensions, and graduation rates. In these instances, it was members of the media—not OSSE—who identified these data issues and brought them to the public’s attention. In the normal course, such issues would have been identified as part of regular audits; that they were not raises genuine concerns about our audit processes and how OSSE oversees our school data. What’s more, at that time, it was reported that an OSSE attorney directed staff to delay a particular investigation because it was a mayoral election year.”

An independent OSSE would avoid the inherent conflict of interest that was established with PERAA’s passage in 2017.

I should mention that Shannon Hodge, the founding executive director of the DC Charter School Alliance, testified before the Council that she is opposed to both acts currently being debated about OSSE’s reporting structure. About Ms. Cheh’s suggestion she commented:

“Making OSSE an independent agency within the DC government, as the Office of the State Superintendent of Education Independence Amendment Act of 2021 (Bill 24-101) would do, would separate it from other agencies that it is deeply interconnected with. For example, OSSE and DC Health work closely together on a number of issues relating to the ongoing pandemic and need to be able to make coordinated decisions. OSSE simply needs the support and collaboration of every city agency to best accomplish their work.”

It is an unusual position because the new organizational structure of OSSE mirrors that of the DC Public Charter School Board. With the PCSB, the Mayor appoints the members but the body is run on its own. I say the council should pass this legislation.


Number of D.C. students permitted to learn virtually now in charter school’s court

Yesterday, the D.C. Council went ahead and unanimously passed emergency legislation expanding the number of students permitted to take classes through distance learning, but the number was far less than Chairman Mendelson had in mind when he proposed the bill. As the Washington Post’s Perry Stein informed us on Tuesday, only an additional two hundred elementary school pupils and one hundred fifty middle school students will be able to participate “if their doctors recommend they stay at home or if they live with a relative who is at high risk for a severe case of the coronavirus.”

Those eligible will join approximately 285 DCPS scholars who are currently learning virtually.

The reason for the small incremental increase, according to Ms. Stein, was due to pressure from Mayor Bowser’s administration pointing to higher costs associated with allowing more children to be taught outside of the classroom. As I mentioned previously, the Council’s rule is that emergency legislation cannot include a rise in expenditures.

The act includes an extremely interesting caveat for charters. As stated in the Post story, “charter networks have more leeway, with the council saying each can decide how many eligible virtual learners to accommodate, though each network must cap it at no less than 3 percent of its student body.”

Actually, the situation has not changed for this sector over the past twenty-four hours. Do the DC PCSB, DC Charter School Alliance, and the sixty eight schools on one hundred thirty three campuses as independent local education agencies, fall in line blindly to the dictates of the Council, or do they legitimately take matters into their own hands in deciding how many students have to be in their buildings?

You already know my opinion as to the way things will play out. Stay with me as we watch events unfold.

D.C. Council set to battle with charter schools; my guess is that charters blink

When Scott Pearson was executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board and he testified in front of the D.C. Council, he had polite and respectful conversations with Education Committee Chairman David Grosso. However, there were a few occasions when conflict arose, especially when Mr. Grosso asked Mr. Pearson for an explanation regarding why charters were not complying with a particular law. Mr. Pearson had to clarify that in reference to the matter under discussion it was the charter sector’s view that the Council lacked jurisdiction.

Last Friday, the Washington Post’s Perry Stein revealed that Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is planning on introducing emergency legislation that would increase the number of students eligible for virtual instruction from home. She wrote:

“Under the legislation, which was still being modified Friday, students under12 who are ineligible for a coronavirus vaccine would be allowed to stay home if they live with someone who is immunocompromised.

It would also allow any student to participate in virtual learning if their doctors recommend that they remain home because they have a health condition that would put them at higher risk for complications if they contract the virus. The virtual learning plan would also apply to both the traditional public and charter sectors, according to a draft bill.”

Now here is the problem. The Council lacks authority to mandate that charter schools provide on-line classes. While there is no debate that the city’s representatives can legislate charters regarding issues of health and safety, not in the broadest interpretation of this criteria would it be acceptable for the legislative body to encroach on the autonomy of the alternative school sector regarding distance learning.

Mayor Muriel Bowser reacted immediately and unequivocally when she heard about Mr. Mendelson’s plan. Ms. Stein says she expressed her viewpoint in a letter to the Council. She wrote:

“It is therefore of paramount importance that we do not disrupt our hard-won, in-person learning for the tens of thousands of students who are in dire need of consistent and quality instruction and socialization. As such, I am very troubled and angered by any legislation that aims to disrupt learning or that will tax and burden our schools.”

While the Mayor is strongly defending her authority to manage DCPS, charters are not so bold. The Post states that DC Charter School Alliance founding executive director Shannon Hodge responded to the news about the emergency act this way:

“The legislation reflects concerns from parents and that there are a ‘significant’ number of students who have completed enrollment paperwork but have not attended school, suggesting they could be staying home for coronavirus-related reasons.”

The comment is especially ironic because charters were apparently directed by PCSB staff not to offer on-line classes. One leader of a prominent network of schools told me recently the organization was dissuaded from filing a charter amendment to provide virtual instruction after being informed that it would be denied. The feeling was this decision was coming out of fear of interfering with Ms. Bowser’s muscular push to have all kids back in the classroom.

If I had to conjecture, I would say that the PCSB and Alliance will roll over and acquiesce to the Council’s directive.

Complicating the passage of the Council Chairman’s bill is the requirement that emergency legislation cannot increase costs. The Mayor has already insinuated that the new law comes with a price tag.

There is one additional portion of the act which is worth noting, as Ms. Perry details:

“The bill also would allow students to receive excused absences if they remain home for pandemic-related reasons. Parents testified at a D.C. Council hearing last month that if one of their children was quarantined and they kept another child home, which the city does not recommend, the sibling would accrue unexcused absences. Too many could lead to a call, and a possible neglect investigation, from the Child and Family Services Agency.”

The Council is set to vote on the measure today. It takes nine councilmembers to pass emergency legislation.

Individual D.C. public schools are having to perform their own Covid-19 contact tracing

Yesterday, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson held a seven-hour public hearing to gather information on the process of re-opening schools this fall. The Washington Post’s Perry Stein covered the event, focusing only on the experiences of DCPS. For example, she writes:

“Publicly available data indicates that, as of Friday, D.C. Public Schools had reported 370 positive cases among its 52,000 students and 1,088 students were quarantined. There had also been 120 positive cases among the system’s 7,500 employees. The District has an asymptomatic testing program, but so far, it has failed to meet its goal to test at least 10 percent of students for the virus in every school each week.”

Ms. Stein leaves out the 43,857 scholars who learn in our nation’s capital charters, I guess because she insists that these schools are “publicly funded but privately run.” I mean really, if your job is to put into words what is happening in this town’s classrooms cover both sectors or simply refer to yourself as the government-run school reporter.

In her piece she documents parent complaints about how the year is going, including unstandardized procedures if a student tests positive, the lack of a virtual option for families that would rather keep their kids at home, and a dearth of study material when students have to quarantine. But here is the part that I found particularly disturbing:

“The union representing the principals has said the administration of contact tracing has wrongly fallen to individual schools.”

This statement appears to be accurate because the issue is also mentioned by DC Public Charter School Board executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis in her testimony:

“And schools are adapting protocols to keep up with the evolving guidance. The flexibility afforded to LEAs in the interpretation of the guidance has put a lot of pressure and tough decisions on school leaders. Some of that flexibility, intended to account for the unique characteristics of each school community, has made it difficult to explain protocols and procedures to families to get them comfortable with safety plans.

We also hear contact tracing needs to improve. Currently, contact tracing is done at the individual school level by the school staff, based on guidance from DC Health and with support from OSSE. This process is burdensome, taxing already stressed educators, including those at our state education agency, whose primary focus should be on teaching and learning.”

Really, on top of trying to teach kids wearing masks all day and using energy that should be channeled to instruction on keeping scholars safe, the individual staffs of our charters need to contact trace? You have got to be joking. This is the best plan that Mayor Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, and acting D.C. State Superintendent of Education Christina Grant can come up with after all these months on planning? This is ridiculous.

I wish that the DC PCSB and the DC Charter School Alliance had listened to me. Charters have throughout their history taken matters into their own hands. When no one would provide them with a building, even though they are public schools, they figured out how to get them. When the payment from the city didn’t come on time they somehow managed to meet payroll. When a long line of education experts said they couldn’t close the academic achievement gap they produced standardized test scores as high as selective institutions.

The movement needs to stop feeling like they are somehow inferior to traditional facilities. Also, they have to end their fear of the Mayor. Charters must once again be bold in the face of all the odds stacked against them. That is the way we will reach the golden goal of equity.



Membership on the D.C. charter board dwindling

Last evening’s monthly meeting of the DC Public Charter School Board started strangely. Long-term member and previous vice chair Saba Bireda announced that this was her last meeting. Also on the Zoom broadcast for a short period was Naomi Shelton. She revealed that her last meeting was actually the August session. She had joined just to say her farewells. Both individuals received accolades from the remaining members of the board.

Recall that last June during a D.C. Council oversight hearing on the charter sector, Chairman Mendelson asked whether DC PCSB chair Rick Cruz and executive director Dr. Michelle Walker-Davis were aware of Mayor Muriel Bowser naming a replacement board member for Steve Bumbaugh whose term had ended, and whether she intended to renew the term of Ms. Shelton. Neither had any information. Now here we are at the end of September with Ms. Bireda having to step down apparently because she has accepted a position with the federal government that conflicts with her PCSB service and, as I postulated three months ago, Ms. Shelton will not get a second appointment to the board. This leaves the charter board with only four members. I cannot recall a time in the approximately twenty-five year history of the PCSB that the number of members has dropped so low.

I do not know if it is the impact of this terrible pandemic or the lack of support for his body from D.C.’s chief executive, but chair Rick Cruz appeared dejected. Or it could have been due to a general lack of enthusiasm by the populace for the charter movement as a whole. For also on this night, Ms. Walker-Davis announced that her organization is in the midst of reviewing the application process for new schools and for replication. Of course, this evaluation is long overdue, and I have called for years to make it simpler both for charters to open and grow. Charter school expansion has been much too bureaucratic. However, I was shocked to hear that because of this deliberation no new charter applications will be accepted until the 2023 cycle and all existing schools will also be prevented from adding additional grade levels until that time. Charter amendments for expansion of student ceiling limits will still be entertained. It felt to me that perhaps we should simply end this entire experiment in school reform.

Or maybe it already has stopped. Earlier in the day the Mayor mandated that all school employees and contractors, no matter what their role, will now have to vaccinated against Covid-19, without an option to skip the shot and be tested. This is something Rocketship PCS, Perry Street PCS, and Monument Academy PCS adopted weeks ago and a mandate that the charter movement should have led as it used to proudly set high standards. The DC Charter School Alliance went along with the move with founding executive director Shannon Hodge stating, “Charter school leaders and the DC Charter School Alliance are prepared to work together with Mayor Bowser, DC Public Schools, and DC Health to ensure we provide safe spaces to learn and adequately protect students and staff in the fight against COVID-19.” Really, what else could she say at this point?

As if all of this was not depressing enough, WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reported last week that eleven charter schools have agreed to include an admission preference for at-risk students. The ability to offer this preference was granted to charters by the D.C. Council in 2020, and is in addition to admission preferences that include siblings of existing enrolled students, children of school employees, and special education students. As a school choice purist, I am fine with the admission advantage for siblings and employees but I stop there. In the most simple terms I do not believe anyone should be discriminated against when trying to gain a seat at these schools. The answer for charters wanting a greater proportion of at-risk students is to open more campuses that can serve these scholars, especially if we can accomplish this by taking over failing traditional schools. It is what we should have been doing for years.

Last month I observed a brief spark in our local charter ecosystem and I was hoping this was the start of a flame. It looks like the match has burned out.

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.