Expanding the horizon of education, five new charter schools will be opening in District for the 2020-2021 academic year. However, the move has invited more criticism than praise, since it is feared to cause financial repercussions in the city. The initiative could result in even more empty seats at existing middle and high schools, which already struggle to attract students.
The DC Public Charter School Board, which draws policy for the city’s expansive charter sector, made the move last week after it reviewed 11 applications for new schools. The argument over how many schools should be allowed to open, also resulted in an unusual heated exchange between the charter board and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s administration. The publicly funded, yet privately run schools educate nearly half of the District’s public school children.
In contrast to other cities and states, the District, which already has 123 charter campuses this academic year, has no upper limit on the number of schools that can be can opened. The exception, however, is that no more than 10 schools can be opened in a year.
Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, wrote a memo to charter board saying they “are competing for a relatively limited number of high school aged students.” The city already has enough seats and smaller schools are more expensive to run, he added.
Presently, budget cuts for the upcoming academic year because of low enrollment are also projected, especially with neighborhood school s, which are low on attendance. As per Kihn, 37 high schools can enroll 19,000 children in the city, of which more than 5000 seats are still empty.
Children studying at new charter schools also receive the same per-pupil funding, just as every other school in the District. Besides, receiving an extra allocation for facility costs. Yet, the problem is that since new schools usually commence with a single grade and small enrollment, founders often find themselves working towards securing grants and loans for start-up costs.
However, Rick Cruz, chair of the DC Public Charter School Board, replying to Kihn argued that such a demand only exists for high-performing schools. Further, elaborating that while some city schools sit half-empty, others have long lists of students wanting to get in.
“It means little to us and even less to many D.C. families to hear that there are thousands of seats in many schools that boast poor academic results,” Cruz said. “Our objective is to ensure that every family has quality school choices, and when you look at this landscape through this particular lens, we still have far to go,” he added.
The Charter board post meeting approved the following schools:
- Capital Village, a middle school that would commence in fifth grade and provide each student with a personalized learning plan
- Girls Global Academy, an all-girls high school with an International Baccalaureate program
- Social Justice School, a middle school that would start in fifth grade
- Sojourner Truth School, a Montessori-style middle and high school
- I Dream Academy, an elementary school that would give students time each week to develop their “passion projects”
Each school is different in its own way and brings on new and interactive ways of learning for students. “The beauty of charter schools is the idea that we can accomplish the same great education outcomes and do it in a lot of different ways,” said Beth Blaufuss, the board chair at Girls Global Academy.
Although the idea is really interesting, yet looking at financial terms and considering the number of empty seats, the plan of opening five new schools only sounds second best to the prevailing financial crisis.
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