- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

In the District of Columbia, public charter school enrollment could easily swell to 11,000 students this school year. As demand grows for charter schools, which are free of many of the bureaucratic mandates that burden traditional schools, the demand for facilities grows as well. D.C. school officials, meanwhile, have had to close school buildings because the city's overall school-age population continues to decline. Years ago, parents and school officials grappled with the issue of whether any schools should close. Today the question is this: Should public charter schools get preferential treatment when interested in acquiring unused school buildings?

In an editorial earlier this month, The Washington Post complained that charter school advocates seeking discount prices for old school buildings used "back channels to Capitol Hill to plead their case with the House Appropriations committee." The result is an amendment to the city's FY 2001 budget that would require the city to sell surplus schools to charter schools at a 25 percent markdown.

Virginia Rep. Jim Moran, The Post said, "estimates that the congressionally mandated discount, if imposed arbitrarily on all listed surplus properties, would cost the District $48 million." D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton calls the amendment "big-time overkill," and The Post agreed, arguing that "Congress has no business butting in on a purely local matter such as the disposition of surplus properties, taking sides as charter schools compete with the regular school system for students and funds."

The Post seems to have forgotten that charter schools are public schools, and they perform the same function as their non-charter counterparts only they do it better, to judge from the growing interest in them. If selling surplus government facilities to charter schools means a loss for the District, it's partly because the city prefers to sell or lease them at higher prices to for-profit companies.

It's not everyday one hears liberals talking about "costs," especially with respect to education. But as long as the subject is up for consideration, it's interesting to note that the "cost" of the District's uneducated and unskilled work force did not fit into Mr. Moran's equation. Nor was there mention of the "cost" to homeowners whose property values decline when nearby abandoned school houses turn into decades-old eyesores.

The District seems more interested in maintaining its (decaying) turf than it is in providing the instruction for which it is ostensibly responsible. How many more children will be condemned to a District education in the meantime? That is the cost Mr. Moran and others should be contemplating.

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