- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Public education dollars are not supposed to follow tangled bureaucratic tape or political whim, and I’ll explain what happens when it does.

Test scores and school reforms tell part of the story.

The 2013-14 standardized-test scores were released Thursday, and students receiving traditional public schooling barely inched upward on the academic measuring stick, while public charter students made great strides. In fact, the lot of them outperformed their traditional counterparts for the ninth year in a row — despite drawing the short straw when it comes to public dollars.

Interestingly, the mayor and the schools chancellor sent mixed signals about the test scores, and that reality doesn’t even compare to the old half-empty vs. half-full perception.

For his part, Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s press release was headlined “Mayor Gray Announces Continued Gains in Student Achievement on DC [Comprehensive Assessment System] Exam.”

His assessment, though, was a half-truth.

Indeed, schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she’s “somewhat disappointed that we weren’t able to demonstrate greater growth.”

It’s not easy for a top school official to use words like “disappointed” when that disappointment reflects on themselves, their boss and the other stewards of education, including teachers.

See, the chancellor’s assessment is the honest one for all families: Since 2006, proficiency rates among black students rose from 35 percent to 54 percent, among Hispanic students from 36 percent to 56 percent, among economically disadvantaged students from 34 percent to 53 percent, among English-language learners from 21 percent to 44 percent and among special-education students from 14 percent to 26 percent.

In addition, public charter students outperformed their traditional publicly schooled counterparts for the ninth year in a row — before the school system adopted the CAS eight years ago.

And these charter children do it even though the city withholds their funds.

Well, their supporters are angry as heck, and they aren’t going to take it anymore.

On Wednesday, the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools (DCACPS), Eagle Academy Public Charter School and Washington Latin Public Charter School filed a federal lawsuit seeking relief from the city’s unequal-funding policies, which shortchange special-needs children, too.

Ramona Edelin, executive director of DCACPS, said that the legal action was a “last resort” after “more than a decade of meetings, demonstrations of the fact of the disparities and negotiations.”

“From the beginning, and continuing today,” she said, “the D.C. government has ignored this fundamental requirement, directing much more funding to the school system than to the public charter schools. The result: Each public charter school student is underfunded, on average, by between $1,600 and $2,600 each year.”

That charter faculties, students, families and advocates continue to rise to the academic occasion despite funding challenges is a testament to education reform — as is the fact that the plaintiffs aren’t seeking monetary damages for past underfunding — which, by the way, totals $771 million since 2008.

Charter children and families want the judge to do the just thing, and order D.C. officials to stop skirting and breaking the law.

Justice may be blind, but she’s not deaf, dumb or stupid.

Political bias and red tape be condemned.

Education dollars must follow the child.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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