- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

More than 11,500 students are enrolled in D.C. charter schools, a 9 percent increase over last school year. The increase was expected, considering parental dissatisfaction and the low student achievement in traditional public schools. One would think those facts alone would lead D.C. officials to concur with parents and do more to bolster school choice. However, the opposite is occurring.
Children and their parents are losing out because city officials refuse to accommodate the growing charter-school movement with suitable public buildings. An estimated "1,000 students cannot attend [charter] schools because the system has no more classrooms," Denise Barnes of The Washington Times reported Monday. The problem will worsen if the District's liberal politicians continue to have their way.
Tri-Community Public Charter School opened this school year with only 22 instead of the expected 400 students. Why? It could not find a suitable school building. Friendship-Edison, which has an elementary school on Capitol Hill and another in Woodridge in Northeast Washington, has a waiting list of 500 students.
The charter-school enrollment numbers are revealing, too. Last school year, about 900 students left D.C. Public Schools, and in school year 2000-2001 about 1,200 left to attend charter schools. To date, a solid 15 percent of D.C. students are enrolled in charter schools a testament to the growing popularity of school choice in the District, limited as it is.
D.C. officials concede charter schools are popular, but that's as far as they go. They won't admit the obvious: The one-size-fits-all approach to public education and undeniable attempts to stem the growth of charter schools leave too many children behind.
"We could not find a building for [Tri-Community charter school] and we have other schools that want to expand but cannot," Robert Cane, executive director of Friends of Choice of Urban Schools, told Miss Barnes. "Although charter schools are growing rapidly, they are being kept artificially low due to the facilities problem." Mr. Cane informed Congress of the severity of the problem earlier this, yet D.C. officials continue to ignore parents' pleas and the law.
That problem is easily solvable. The D.C. School Reform Act of 1995 states that, unless the District can make substantial money from another purchaser or lessee, charter schools must be given preference of surplus schools. Mayor Williams has control of three dozen of more than 60 surplus schools. While the mayor can make worthy arguments for selling some of those surplus facilities for commercial use, his administration is obligated by law to grant preference to charter schools and by demand to oblige charter-school parents. School authorities must speak out in the best interests of charter-school students, too, and the D.C. Council must do more to support charter schools.
We prefer to maintain local control of schools. It surely would be an unfortunate circumstance if Congress, which has the authority, were to step in and force the hands of D.C. officials on such a mundane issue.

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