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DC Cannot Afford the Luxury of Not Planning for Its Schools

The DC School Boundary and Feeder Pattern proposal, just released by the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), reflects widespread sentiment for high-quality, by-right neighborhood schools. Families in all wards want their children to have the choice to attend neighborhood schools that offer a balanced and rich curriculum—with the challenges and support their children need.

We commend the DME and the advisory committee for spending countless hours listening to thousands of parents across the city and debating how best to redraw school boundaries and reestablish coherent feeder school patterns. While some may be unhappy over particular lines or feeder patterns, no one should lose sight of the overall direction this proposal lays out for our city.

Now, much work lies ahead to ensure quality by-right schools in every neighborhood. Because of closures, or misguided reforms to create K-8 educational campuses, some parts of the city have no neighborhood elementary schools; others have no middle schools.

The proposal clearly shows that DC public schools (DCPS) and the DME are being thoughtful about planning to best meet the need, and obvious demand for, high-quality neighborhood schools. Indeed, the proposal, along with the funding formula to help the lowest performing schools, represent a necessary investment in achieving high-quality neighborhood schools everywhere in our city.

But all that good planning will come to nothing if we do not immediately deal with the elephant in the room: the lack of coordination and planning between DCPS and charter schools.

Longstanding neglect of our public schools—which the DME’s boundaries proposal and the funding formula seek to undo–emboldened Congress in 1995 to make DC a testing ground for the burgeoning charter movement. Less than 20 years later, 43% of our public school students attend charters funded with DC taxpayer dollars.

The current lack of coordination between charters and DCPS has had huge ramifications for public policy. Without a substantially growing student population, the creation of new schools, both charter and DCPS, has resulted in existing schools losing enrollment—and therefore resources. And those losses lead to failing schools and school closures.

This tremendous waste, in the name of competition, is not some logical by-product of educational checks and balances. It is a cost borne by all DC taxpayers and, worst of all, every one of DC’s public school kids.

Our city needs to use the DME’s new boundaries plan as the first step in collaborative public education planning with charters. Now is the time for our city to dedicate resources to strategically reopen neighborhood schools and to ensure all neighborhood schools get the resources they need. And it is time for charters to coordinate with existing schools, both charter and DCPS, to ensure that their innovations are brought to the kids who can most benefit.

DC parents want a system of choice schools, not school competition where our children’s educations are put at risk when any school lacks what it needs. A collaborative approach to running our public school system can create an environment in which every school, and therefore every child, has a fair chance to succeed.

Doing otherwise is just a luxury our city cannot afford.

 

Caryn Ernst, Capitol Hill Cluster School parent

Valerie Jablow, Capitol Hill Cluster School parent

Suzanne Wells, Tyler Elementary School parent

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