- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2011

As funding for D.C. students and schools hang in the balance on Capitol Hill and City Hall, school choice proponents are criticizing Mayor Vincent C. Gray for planning to renege on a promise to put charter school funding on par with traditional schools.

Mr. Gray won’t officially release his fiscal 2012 spending plan until Friday, but members of the House already have backed a bipartisan $60 million D.C. appropriations bill that boosts spending on the three-sector approach, which funds vouchers, charters and traditional schools.

A vote on that measure could come this week.

Meanwhile, charter proponents are criticizing Mr. Gray, who, during his State of the District address Monday, asked stakeholders to imagine D.C. as a city “where every schoolhouse, whether traditional or public charter, is well-resourced, well-run and well-recognized for its success.”

The mayor’s actions fall short of his talk, said charter supporters, who vow to lobby for additional funds.

“It’s a wonderful sentiment that will become reality sooner as opposed to later. But 15 years into the charter school movement many charter school kids are still denied entry into schoolhouses and access to equitable resources,” said Robert Cane, executive director of the nonprofit Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS).

While capital spending at traditional schools is slated at more than $5,800 per student, the mayor is proposing only $2,800 per charter pupil.

“The funding formula is exactly the same as the last fiscal year, which is to provide $2,800 per pupil for facilities and allowing the charters to use a portion of the three-sector federal funding,” a Gray spokeswoman said.

Charter schools will be able to use $5 million of $20 million in federal funding toward facilities, which then brings the level of funding up to $3,000, she said.

That didn’t play with charter advocates.

“We are still hoping that the mayor will send a $3,000 facilities allowance to the council on Friday. If he doesn’t, we’ll be asking the D.C. Council at the charter school budget hearing on April 8 and individually in their offices to find the $7.3 million to do that,” Mr. Cane said.

During the 2010 mayoral campaign, Mr. Gray said he would implement “a blueprint for bringing parity to the way in which per pupil funding and D.C. agency services are delivered to DCPS and charter school students and recommend a clear and transparent process for the transition of vacant public school facilities to charter schools.”

But last week the new Gray administration told charter leaders the allotment will be set at $2,800 per charter student, less than half of the amount of their traditional school counterparts.

The mayor’s proposal comes three weeks after he announced higher enrollments in charter schools, which enroll about 40 percent of school-age children, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton touted parental demand for a “dazzling variety” of charters as one reason why Congress should direct federal dollars toward charters and back down from advancing the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides vouchers to low-income students.

“Any new funding for education in the District should reinforce the hard work of our own parents and residents who have shown the nation that they know how to build a popular alternative public school system with a dazzling variety of public charter schools,” Mrs. Norton said at a March 1 hearing on the bipartisan Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act (SOAR).

Mrs. Norton and Mr. Gray, both Democrats, oppose publicly funded vouchers. But D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown supports vouchers and has said they are key to reforming D.C. schools.

Mr. Brown said he hopes city officials and school reformers understand that education funding from Congress will be tied to the three-sector approach.

“I can’t oppose that new money for our schools,” he said.



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