Three of the District's charter schools will not reopen in the fall, yet when the new school year begins, D.C. still will have more than it does now — a point that advocates for charter schools say proves their worth.
In an example of how the charter-school movement operates nationwide, the D.C. closings will be offset by four new charter schools, boosting the total to 53. Unlike traditional public schools, which often remain open despite poor student achievement and financial troubles, charter schools routinely close. And while the specific reasons for closing vary, competing in an educational marketplace means their survival depends on student success.
"The trade-off of our existence comes down to this: if charter schools don't perform, they cease to exist," Debbie Beyer, executive director of Literacy First Charter Schools in El Cajon, Calif., told a House subcommittee on Wednesday.
"It is a brilliant marriage between business and education. It forces competition and requires serious and deliberate attention to every detail to justify our existence. There is absolutely no sense of entitlement," she said.
Six percent of the nearly 5,500 charter schools nationwide were closed in the 2009-10 school year, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.
Each school's charter must be routinely renewed, usually every five years. When renewal time comes, 87 percent of charters get the green light, while the other 13 percent are either closed or placed on some type of probationary status, the association said.
The District's William E. Doar Jr. Public Charter School for the Performing Arts was granted a one-year conditional charter last month. The Public Charter School Board plans to "closely monitor the school's academic progress and its finances" over the next 12 months, it said in a press release. The school will no longer accept high-school students, limiting its offerings to kindergarten through eighth grade.
The board revoked the charter of Nia Community Public Charter School last month. The Thea Bowman Preparatory Academy Public Charter School and the School for Arts In Learning Public Charter School [SAIL] each voluntarily gave up their charters.
Often, it boils down to money. SAIL, for example, told the board it did not have the "financial resources" to continue.
While some charters throw in the towel, others fight closure efforts.
Last year, the board revoked the Kamit Institute for Magnificent Achievers Public Charter School's charter, but Kamit took the matter to court. The D.C. Superior Court last month upheld the decision to close Kamit for what the board called a variety of shortcomings, including poor test results, truancy problems and underdeveloped curriculum.
More than 29,000 students — about 39 percent of the District's student body — attend charters. Closures can often be difficult for families who must, in a matter of months, find a new school for their children. The board routinely holds public forums so parents know their options.
Sometimes, D.C. hires "enrollment specialists" to help find the right fit for a student, said Audrey Williams, the board's public affairs manager.
"What we hear from the parents, they would like [their children] to go to another charter," Ms. Williams told The Washington Times on Wednesday.
While it can put students and parents in a difficult spot, proponents don't bemoan frequent closures. In fact, they actively fight to close charters that aren't getting the job done.
"We are 100 percent supportive that we close the bad charter schools," said Chad Miller, senior director of federal policy at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "It's always a problem when a school closes, but is that a justification to leave a school open that isn't performing?"
Many Republicans in Congress see the "marriage between business and education["] as the beauty of charter schools. Some Democrats see charters as unnecessary burdens which divert money from struggling traditional schools.
Many states have either passed or are debating voucher programs, which take much of the money a traditional public school would spend on a student and return it to the family. But sending children to a charter school almost always means parents must pick up some of the tab.
But Rep. Donald M. Payne, New Jersey Democrat, said that system gives affluent families the charter option while leaving public schools holding the bag.
"What is being left in public schools are public school teachers dealing with the rest," often minority students struggling to learn English or children with disabilities or other special needs, Mr. Payne said at the House Education and the Workforce early childhood, elementary and secondary education subcommittee hearing.
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