Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment of 2015. My name is Suzanne Wells. I am the founder of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, and my daughter is a fifth grader in the Tyler Elementary Spanish Immersion program.
It is important to strengthen the transparency surrounding the DC public charter schools, and this bill is a modest step in the right direction. As the Council considers comments on the bill, I strongly urge the Council to consider the recommendations included in the Transparency, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility for Publicly Funded Charter Schools in DC paper that was developed with input from a broad range of education stakeholders across the city.
My testimony today focuses on the lack of transparency in the siting of new public charter schools. Public charter schools generally locate their facilities in DC public schools that are determined to be surplus or in commercially-owned buildings. There is a minimal opportunity for the public to be involved when charter schools locate in surplus DC public schools. However, there is no transparency or opportunity for public input when public charter schools locate in commercially-owned buildings. There are many different reasons that a community may want or not want a school in their community, and that is why transparency on the siting of new public charter schools is so important both for the schools and for the communities.
The recent opening of Washington Global Middle School in Ward 6 provides important insights into the need for greater transparency in the siting of new public charter schools. In May 2014, the Public Charter School Board approved Washington Global’s application which said it was looking to site its new facility in Wards 4, 5, 7 or 8. Washington Global initially sought to locate in the former Gibbs School, along with Monument Academy and Community College Prep. For reasons that have never been made public, Washington Global was not included in the group of schools that were awarded the former Gibbs School. In December 2014, Washington Global Middle School announced it had leased a commercial building in Ward 6 for its new location. Because this commercial building is privately owned, there was no process for the public to provide input.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D was not consulted or informed before Washington Global leased its new facility. The Public Charter School Board approved the Ward 6 location for Washington Global even though its original application said it was planning to locate in Wards 4, 5, 7 or 8. The public was never given the opportunity to provide input on the opening of Washington Global which is now located less than 1,700 feet from Jefferson Middle School, a DC public school that has a program substantially similar to Washington Global. There is no defined process for the siting of new public charter schools.
There is no opportunity for the public to provide input when public charter schools locate in commercial buildings. I encourage the Council to consider strengthening the Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment by adding provisions that would increase public involvement and transparency when new public charter schools are sited or when existing public charter schools are expanded. Without increased transparency, we will continue to make less than optimal decisions about where our tax dollars go to support our public schools, and will do a disservice to the students attending schools in Washington, DC.
Another area where much greater transparency is needed is in regards to what happens to the facilities that once housed closed public charter schools. Approximately 40 public charter schools have closed since their charters were first approved. The facilities of these closed public charter schools were paid for with taxpayer dollars while the schools were open. The taxpayers have a right to know what happened to the facilities that formerly housed these public charter schools. If the buildings were sold, where did the proceeds from the sale go? If the facilities were being financed through revenue bond programs, who is paying the bond debt now?
In closing, there are many areas where greater public charter school transparency is needed. I strongly encourage the Council to strengthen this fiscal transparency amendment. Thank you for the opportunity to testify