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Testimony by Suzanne Wells at the Public School Charter Board Hearing, April 20, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening. My name is Suzanne Wells. I am a resident of the District of Columbia, and I have a daughter who is a fourth grader in the Tyler Elementary Spanish Immersion program.   I have been a strong supporter of my neighborhood public schools, and believe the public schools can and should provide a top-quality education for all children regardless of race or economic status.

I am testifying this evening about my concerns with the lack of planning between the Public Charter School Board and DCPS in making decisions about the opening of new schools. This lack of planning results in an inefficient use of our tax dollars that go towards education, has a detrimental impact on both existing charter schools and the DC public schools, and creates more open seats than this city has students to fill them. As Benjamin Franklin is attributed to saying, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”

The outcome of last year’s Student Assignment process reinforced the principle that families and communities in all parts of the city want the assurance of quality, matter-of-right schools in their neighborhoods. Parents do not want to be at the mercy of lotteries, and they don’t want their children to have long commutes in order to attend quality schools.

Currently there is no overall strategy for how we will meet the educational needs of our children and communities, and how we will spend nearly one fifth of our tax revenue each year to do so. We must have coordinated planning, overseen by an accountable city agency, with active community input, to consider proposed modernizations, expansions, closings, and openings of any school.

For example, this evening the Public Charter School Board is considering the Washington Leadership Academy’s application for a new high school. Our city has made heavy investments in modernizing our neighborhood high schools, investing well over $600 million dollars to renovate high schools across the city, including Anacostia and Ballou High Schools in Ward 8. These renovations were much needed. At Eastern High School, the impact of the renovation in 2010 played an important role in the rebirth of the school where it went from being virtually closed to now being fully enrolled.

The PCSB announced after the first round of the My School DC lottery that there were over 400 open 9th grade seats at public charter school campuses. Similarly, many of our high schools are under enrolled.

In addition, DCPS recently announced a $20 million commitment to its Empowering Males of Color initiative that aims to increase enrollment in Advanced Placement courses, improve graduation rates, increase college acceptance, and prepare students for high-wage, high-growth careers. As part of the initiative DCPS is planning to open a high school designed to support the academic and social-emotional development of male students.

Should our city be opening a new high school when we know we have open seats in both the public charter schools and neighborhood high schools? Should our city be investing in yet another high school facility after substantial dollars have been invested in the neighborhood high schools? Are the goals of the Empowering Males of Color Initiative and Washington Leadership Academy the same?

Similar concerns can be raised about the applications for Legacy Collegiate and Breakthrough Montessori. These applications duplicate programs that already exist in our public school system, create excessive seats, and will require the taxpayers to invest in new facilities.

There must be better planning between DCPS and the Public Charter School Board before any new public charter schools are approved.

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