- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is trying to pull a fast one on parents of the District with a bill she is pushing to get passed on the House floor as early as next week. The Public Charter Schools Home Rule Act, which Mrs. Norton says is necessary to preserve the right of District residents to govern themselves, is nothing more than a shell game to mask city hall’s agenda to undermine school choice initiatives.

In a statement announcing progress on the bill, Mrs. Norton “reminded the committee that as part of an aggressive overhaul of the city’s public schools, Mayor [Adrian] Fenty last year abolished the city’s charter school board in favor of the board established by Congress because of the achievements of the federally established board.” If that is the case, then why is it necessary to give the D.C. government “full jurisdiction” and “complete oversight” of the D.C. Public Charter School Board?

Furthermore, Mr. Fenty also stripped the D.C. Board of Education of its oversight duties - leaving it as an impotent advisory board that no one listens to - and gave himself the authority it once had. That authority is only one-year-old, and there have been plenty of bumps along the way - namely, spending more than $20 million repairing schools he decided to close a year later. And let’s not forget that he increased the education budget to over $1 billion with an enrollment of less than 50,000 students. At the very least, any effort to put charter schools in the hands of the mayor and the D.C. Council should wait until they can prove they have a firm handle on managing the schools already under their authority - about half way through his second term (if he makes it to that point).

Make no mistake, this is a direct assault on school choice, a bitter irony considering that Democrats and Mrs. Norton have argued all along that the mere existence of charter schools and private-school vouchers are an assault on traditional public schools. It is now quite clear who is poised for an assault. It started months ago, when Mrs. Norton proclaimed that the Democrat-controlled Congress would likely not reauthorize the D.C. voucher program beyond next year, when it is set to expire.

Mrs. Norton notes that the charter school board was set up by the Control Board with limited home rule authority, allowing the mayor to make appointments to the charter board from a list of candidates provided by the secretary of education. The fact that some of these appointees live outside the District, in Mrs. Norton’s mind, creates an “unacceptable anti-Home Rule anomaly.” But the only anomaly involved was a broken, bankrupt government that precipitated many of these changes in the first place.

Congress should draw the line here. Charter schools are operating just fine, as Mrs. Norton says, and if they are not broken, there is no need to fix them or the body that oversees them.

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