- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2013

At least two D.C. Council members say they would not support efforts by the chairman of the Committee on Education to deliberately withhold funds from public charter schools in order to slow their growth amid rising demand.

Council member David A. Catania, the new chairman of the education panel, relayed his concerns at an oversight hearing Jan. 23, when he said the growing charter movement is fast approaching an “irreversible tipping point” in the next year or two.

Last week, the at-large independent expressed further frustration, saying a “momentary pause” is needed on new charters and suggested that perhaps charters’ facility funds be withheld to discourage new growth.

“I would not support that,” said Tommy Wells, Ward 6 Democrat and education panel member who is weighing a 2014 run for mayor.


Jim Graham, Democrat representing Ward 1, home to more than a dozen charters, said withholding the $3,000 per-pupil facilities allotment for charters would create a disparity among public school students.

“We can’t do that,” Mr. Graham said. “It’s very important that there be equity in the dual system. We cannot afford to do anything less than equal.”

He also said that charters have long faced “a huge problem with facilities” and that the city needs to do a “better job of making school facilities available to charters.”

“The need for thoughtful and strategic planning is obvious,” said Ramona Edelin, executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools. “We need to plan together and with all the parties at the table to establish responsible planning.”

As for facilities, Ms. Edelin said city officials should look at the “cost effectiveness of funding the renovation of some of these big old [school] buildings,” which could be retrofitted as mixed-use facilities to include schooling, commercial ventures and city services.

Regarding funding, she said, “Taxpayer funds by law must follow the child in the District of Columbia, and legislators should not disrupt the flow of those funds in order to slow down the growth of the charter school sector, which parents are clearly choosing.”

The Public Charter School Board, the city’s chartering authority, has approved charters for several new schools to open in the fall, including Sela, a bilingual English-Hebrew school. In addition, one organization wants to open a Montessori school and another wants to open at least eight new charters in the coming years.

Mr. Graham, who is not a member of the education committee but would have a vote in the Committee of the Whole should Mr. Catania’s frustration become a legislative proposal, said he, too, is on the same page as Ms. Edelin regarding strategic planning.

“Charters currently educate 43 percent of D.C. students,” said Mr. Graham. “What are we going to do when its 50-50 or 60-40? It’s just so long we can ignore it.”