D.C. Mayor could have closed charter schools; that she didn’t should be applauded

In the wake of this terrible world-wide tragedy regarding the coronavirus, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser on March 7th declared a state of emergency and public health emergency in the nation’s capital. According to WAMU’s Jacob Fenston:

“Declaring a state of emergency activates a broad range of powers that enable the mayor to mobilize people and resources more quickly to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. That includes things like mandatory quarantines or curfews, freeing up funds more quickly and preventing price gouging on essentials needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

Yesterday, she issued new restrictions on the number of people who can be present in bars and restaurants.

In addition, last week it was announced that D.C. public schools would be closed beginning today, Monday, March 16th, and would re-open on Wednesday, April 1st. March 16 is a professional development day for teachers so that remote learning lesson plans can be implemented. The spring break that was originally scheduled for the middle of April is cancelled and instead will take place this week. Beginning Monday, March 23rd students will take classes online.

So that pupils do not miss meals associated with attending school, DCPS has established food distribution sites at 16 campuses. Many students in our city would go hungry were it not for the nourishment they receive while at their classrooms.

The Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn should be congratulated and thanked for the perfectly appropriate response regarding our schools in the face of this crisis.

Most, but not all, public charter schools are following the schedule established for DCPS.

The School Reform Act of 1995 created charter schools in the District, making them autonomous from DCPS. In 2007, Adrian Fenty won control of the regular schools through the Public Education Reform Act. Although the SRA provided charters with clear freedom from the rules governing the regular schools, there is broad agreement that the chief executive and D.C. Council still have authority over the alternative sector when it comes to the health and safety of students.

This is why Ms. Bowser’s announcement regarding DCPS is so important. It demonstrates a restraint that honors the independence of charters as individual local education agencies combined with a deep respect that they will take appropriate actions to protect the lives of those that they educate, as they have done for over 25 years.

We should be proud of our elected representative’s efforts to protect its citizens. Today, we must also celebrate our clearly established system of school choice in the greatest city in the world.

One day after call for increased funding for D.C. public schools, Mayor agrees to 4% jump

Yesterday, I wrote about a column in the Washington Post by Anthony Williams calling for a four percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. The same day, Twitter ignited with the news that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had agreed to include the additional spending in her fiscal 2021 budget. If approved by the Council, this will be a tremendous help for schools desperate to stay competitive with teacher salaries.

Mr. Williams in his piece talked about the revenue available to the District for such an investment. He wrote;

“The Office of the Chief Financial Officer recently announced the collection of $280 million in unanticipated revenue in fiscal 2019 and is projecting nearly $518 million in additional revenue over the next four years.”

In an article by the Post’s Perry Stein about the new incremental school spending she adds,

“Bowser’s announcement comes just days after her administration announced the city has a $1.43 billion rainy day fund.”

The reporter also included some interesting statistics about public school spending in the District of Columbia:

“In all, the mayor plans to spend about $989 million in city money on the District’s traditional public school system. The total spending figure represents an average increase of 8 percent for each campus in the traditional school system, with some of that boost reflecting expected growth in enrollment.”

More money for our students is big news, however, a couple of paragraphs in Ms. Stein’s story really caught my attention:

“But many schools — especially in Wards 7 and 8, the swaths of the city with the highest concentrations of poverty — have struggled with enrollment in recent years. Teachers have said they feel hamstrung, with declining enrollment leaving them with less funding and inadequate resources to serve their students and attract new ones.

Smaller schools are more expensive to operate and, with the opening of new campuses in the traditional public and charter sectors, the city has an increasing number of campuses with many vacant seats. A total of 38 high schools educate nearly 20,000 students in the traditional and charter sectors.”

The reality of underutilized traditional school school buildings, while nothing new, should at this point in our city’s efforts at public school reform drive a complete rethinking of the actual number of DCPS schools that are truly needed, how consolidation could lead to improved academic achievement for students, and which buildings could be turned over to the charter sector that desperately needs them.

Spending more money is easy. Realigning resources to match student needs is much more challenging. We have heard time and time again that parents do not care if a school is a regular one or a charter. They just want a quality education for their children. We have also listened as people across this town have called for coordination of resources between DCPS and charters.

Now is the time for real leadership.

At monthly D.C. charter board meeting Mayor Bower demonstrates who’s boss

Mayor Muriel Bowser shocked the DC Public Charter School Board and those in the audience by showing up in person Monday evening to address its monthly meeting. She dominated the opening public comment portion of the session, first introducing the Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn, who was sitting in the first row, and then going on to thank Scott Pearson for the excellent job he has done in his role as PCSB executive director. Ms. Bowser commented that “I don’t know what Scott will do next but I know he will be excellent at it.”

The Mayor went on to say that she wished the current board well because they have to select Mr. Pearson’s replacement. Ms. Bowser predicted that they will have a good pool of candidates from which to choose because D.C. public schools are the envy of the nation thanks to the progress this urban school district has made in reading and in math across all subgroups of children. She said that we cannot “let up one bit” on demanding what all of our kids need.

Ms. Bowser then revealed the reason she was present. “I’m here to check on you,” she asserted. She pointed out that the city is now working on its 2020 to 2021 budget. The Mayor boasted that her school budget has gone up in each of the five years that she has been in office.

She spoke on a wide variety of topics such as school safety, student transportation, and making additional resources available for charters for concerns such as teacher salaries.

Ms. Bowser then turned to the board for questions. Chairman Rick Cruz started the conversation by stating that many of the areas that the Mayor raised have been discussed by his board. He then gently brought up the facility issue by thanking the Mayor for awarding Ferebee-Hope Elementary School to KIPP DC PCS and said he hoped that other buildings would be turned over to charters. The announcement that KIPP had won the request for proposal for this school was made earlier in the day. The move marks the first time the Bowser Administration has provided a closed former traditional school to a charter.

Mr. Cruz then quickly pivoted to a discussion regarding filling the executive director vacancy. When other board members were asked for questions, member Ricarda Ganjam inquired bravely as to the school the Mayor would like her daughter to attend. The answer was Shepherd Elementary, the one in Ms. Bowser’s neighborhood. Steve Bumbaugh shyly wanted to know the one or two things the PCSB could do to improve its performance.

The audience was then asked to participate. The sole taker was Appletree Institute for Education Innovation’s president and CEO Jack McCarthy. This is the same Jack McCarthy who had to shutter a campus for at-risk three and four year old’s when the Deputy Mayor for Education failed to find a replacement site for one of Appletree’s campuses when the building was closed as part of a DCPS school renovation. His cause was taken up by the editors of both the Washington Post (twice) and the Wall Street Journal. His question: Could the city work with developers to have them include space for schools in their projects?

This was the extent of the facility discussion. The Mayor failed to bring up the subject despite the fact that she has faced tremendous pressure over the past several months in the form of the DC Association of Public Charter School’s End the List campaign to release an estimated over one million square feet of excess space controlled by DCPS that by law should have been turned over to charters. No one from the board or others in the room challenged her. Not a single person brought up the FOCUS-engineered charter school funding inequity lawsuit.

After a thirty minute performance Ms. Bowser and her entourage proudly strutted out of the room. And strut she should have done. The charter school community was put in their place. The Mayor entered the epicenter of our local movement and emerged without even one verbal scratch.

Now the quandary becomes, if even the DC Public Charter School Board will not defend charters, who will?