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Letter to the Editor by CHPSPO founder, Suzanne Wells: Put controls in place regarding the approval of new D.C. public charters

The following letter to the editor, Put controls in place regarding the approval of new D.C. public charters, appeared online in the Washington Post on March 27, 2015.


In the March 22 Local Opinions commentary “Why charters need traditional schools,” the executive director and the former chairman of the D.C. Public Charter School Board claimed, “We believe that the balance we have, with a thriving public charter sector and strong traditional schools, is about right.” It is unclear what they believe should happen now that “the balance . . . is about right.”

It seems clear that the charter board won’t stop approving new schools. It has approved an average of six a year. The District has 112 public charter schools, and three will open this fall. One, Washington Global Middle School, will open about a third of a mile from Jefferson Middle School and offer a substantially similar program. In May, the board will vote on whether to open six more schools in 2016. The balance won’t be “about right” for long.

Parents and public education supporters have been advocating for joint planning by D.C. Public Schools and the D.C. Public Charter School Board before charter schools are opened. Many believe we are spreading our education dollars too thin by opening charter schools that duplicate the services found in existing schools.

It is up to the D.C. Council and the mayor to require comprehensive planning before District taxpayers are asked to fund the opening of public charter schools.

— Suzanne Wells, Washington

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Public Hearing for DC Schools FY16 Budget – Testimony by Suzanne Wells, CHPSPO

The following testimony was prepared by Suzanne Wells of CHPSPO. on March 16, 2015 at the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia organized by the Executive Office of the Mayor.

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Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia

Suzanne Wells

Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization

March 16, 2016
Columbia Heights Education Campus
3101 16th St., NW

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my views on the FY16 funding for public schools in the District of Columbia.  This is an important hearing because important education policy decisions are made when our city makes decisions on how it allocates funding for education.

The Washington Post reported last Friday, March 13, on the DCPS plans for allocating its FY16 budget.  Overall, there are many good things in the budget.  Kaya Henderson has called next school year “the year of the high school.”  The extra investment in high schools is expected to provide more Advanced Placement courses, and more electives for students.  We support this much needed investment in high schools.

However, we must caution that the work on our middle schools is far from being done.  Middle schools across the city provide the bridge between our elementary and high schools.  DCPS has faced a persistent problem in retaining students after elementary school.  While there have been investments in past years in our middle schools, and modest gains in improvement, continued investments are needed.  Support similar to what is being provided next year for high schools is also needed at the middle school level in order for them to thrive.

We support DCPS’s plans to begin providing a per student funding formula for library collection development.  While we have not been able to closely examine the local school budgets, because neither those budgets nor any substantive budget guidance was made public even as of 2 pm today, we caution that the funding for library collection development should be a real increase to the local school budget, and should not come at the expense of other important items in the local school budget.

Because this hearing is on the funding for public schools, both the schools DCPS manages and the public charter schools, we must raise to you our deep concerns about the lack of comprehensive planning between DCPS and the Public Charter School Board PCSB) when new charter schools are opened.  I will use the remainder of my testimony to explain why this lack of planning should be of concern to both you and the taxpayers of the District of Columbia.

Last week, we learned a new charter middle school, Washington Global, has leased a building in Ward 6 that is less than 1,700 feet from Jefferson Middle School in order to start its International Middle Years Curriculum program. In Washington Global’s own charter school application, they targeted Wards 4, 5, 7 and 8 for locating their new school based on their own analysis of need.  In Ward 6, we have three middle schools, Stuart Hobson, Eliot-Hine and Jefferson along with Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan which is a city-wide school that DCPS expanded to go through middle school.  Stuart Hobson is at capacity, but both Eliot-Hine and Jefferson are under enrolled.  Both Eliot-Hine and Jefferson have been steadily improving.  Eliot-Hine is expected to become certified as an International Baccalaureate Middle Years program for the coming school year, and Jefferson is shifting to a college prep program.  Washington Global’s program essentially duplicates the program being offered at Eliot-Hine, and is substantially similar to what is being offered at Jefferson.

With the opening of the new Washington Global, taxpayers will now be paying for a new charter middle school when it essentially duplicates what is being offered at other middle schools in the city.  Taxpayers will be paying for the opening of a new charter middle school when we know that we have existing under enrolled middle schools.  Taxpayers will be paying for Washington Global to renovate the building they have leased while both Eliot-Hine and Jefferson will continue to wait for their Phase 1 modernizations that the taxpayers will eventually be asked to fund.

Because there is no planning between DCPS and the Public Charter School Board, our educational dollars are being spread thin.  Because there is no planning, our educational dollars are not being strategically used to support students.  The taxpayers, parents and students cannot fix the “no planning” problem.  It is up to the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor for Education, the DC Council, DCPS and the PCSB to fix the “no planning” problem, and we urge you to make this your highest priority.

Public Hearing for DC Schools FY16 Budget – Testimony by Cathy Reilly, S.H.A.P.P.E.

The following testimony was delivered by Cathy Reilly of S.H.A.P.P.E. on March 16, 2015 at the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget for Public Schools in the District of Columbia organized by the Executive Office of the Mayor.

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S.H.A.P.P.E.

Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.  The Senior High Alliance has been advocating for high school students for the last 17 years.

By most reports the 2016 budgets for the DCPS high schools will boost elective choices and opportunities for these young people.  It has the potential to match the capital investment the city has made in the DCPS High schools with a program investment.  If this is maintained it will make a huge difference in our ability to provide the families of Washington DC with something they overwhelmingly asked for – a strong DCPS system of feeder schools of right in every ward of the city.  Thank you.  I am looking forward to seeing the budgets and learning what schools are able to do with the funds.

The work in realizing the vision of a predictable and strong set of schools in each of the 9 feeder patterns is not yet done however.  The crucial elements remaining are:

  • Meeting the demand for the pre-school seats by expanding and providing by right access in wards of the city serving at risk and title one students. This will strengthen the whole feeder pattern.
  • While the middle grades bump in funding has helped, most of the K-8 middle grades programs cannot compete with a school with the options Alice Deal offers. We need the 4 middle schools recommended in the Student Assignment recommendations to provide a seamless route. One in Ward 7, two in Ward 4 and one to feed into Cardozo.
  • Required planning with the charter sector to support the vision endorsed after an expansive public engagement process as part of the Student Assignment process. A core system of high quality neighborhood schools of right complemented by a set of high quality public school options.  We cannot do this with an unlimited number of schools.  We have to have a planning process across the sectors.  One that looks at location and need.   Need is not defined by where there are schools that have or do not have students scoring proficient.  We can do better than a pure market model in sustaining our public infrastructure and supporting our public institutions.

We would like to also work with you Chancellor Henderson and with Dr. Simmons on universal and institutional support for all of young people who are struggling.  I think the launching of a “Black Girls Matter” conference and some of the feedback from some students east of the river regarding the proposed small YMOC high school should have a space to really be heard and considered.    We would like to work with you on making that happen.

We welcome the Burdick school coming back into DCPS and hope that there will be work on a model that makes it easy for schools under many different circumstances to be part of DCPS.

Thank you