David Catania, chairman of the D.C. Council's newly reconstituted Education Committee, was out of bounds when he suggested that the council attempt to slow down the proliferation of charter schools in the city by deliberately withholding $3,000 in per-pupil facilities funding "to help manage the process" by discouraging new applicants.
Charter schools are "popping up everywhere," as Catania correctly observed, because District parents have enthusiastically embraced them, putting D.C. at the forefront of the growing school choice movement. Charter enrollment is up 10 percent this year, compared with the less than 1 percent increase for DC Public Schools. DCPS will be closing 15 half-empty schools; charters, meanwhile, are experiencing growing pains. As Catania himself acknowledged, charters will likely surpass DCPS' "within two years."
So charter schools should be getting more funding for facilities, not less.
Besides, the council relinquished control over the creation of charter schools in 1996, when an amendment to the D.C. School Reform Act established the DC Public Charter School Board as an independent entity to authorize, evaluate and, in some cases, terminate publicly funded charter schools.
In 2007, the council transferred oversight for charter schools from the D.C. Board of Education to the PCSB, which, according to all indications, is doing its job. The number of top-rated Tier 1 charter schools has increased to 22. And earlier this month, PCSB trustees recommended the closure of Imagine Southeast, a charter school that has the lowest average attendance in all of Ward 8 and that has failed to meet four of its five academic goals.
Instead of welcoming new charter school applicants such as Rocketship Education -- a nonprofit whose individualized game-based approach to teaching has resulted in some of the highest test scores for low-income students in California -- Catania is trying to set up a roadblock.
Charter schools already receive significantly less facilities funding per pupil. This has forced some to set up classrooms in less-than-optimal church basements, storefronts and warehouses, which D.C. taxpayers pay $100 million annually to rent. Even though charters are legally entitled to unused public school buildings, at least 10 already vacant school buildings owned by DCPS still have not been offered to the charter board.
Charter schools are here to stay. Instead of trying to delay the inevitable, Catania and his colleagues on the council should manage the $100 million currently being wasted on charter school rent when so many suitable school buildings sit empty, collecting cobwebs.