The Washington Post's Emma Brown today describes the celebration of politicians and school officials at the topping off ceremony for the new Ballou High School. The $142 million renovation includes, according to the reporter "science labs, auto mechanic training and cosmetology training centers, a culinary arts kitchen, a greenhouse, performing and visual arts spaces, a swimming pool and more."
The Mayor reflected on the project this way, “What we’re doing for one, we’re doing for all." Not so fast.
It is easy with all the political goings on in this town to forget that Mr. Gray ran for office on a "One City" campaign. But in an extremely important way D.C. is split into two. There are the traditional schools that receive hundreds of millions of dollars for school renovation, and then once the new facilities are built the government pays for their maintenance. Then there are the charters, educating about the same number of students as the regular schools but who boast a higher academic performance, that must fend for themselves in fixing up buildings and tend to their upkeep using an allotment of about $3,000 per student.
Charters are not asking for much. There are 23 closed DCPS facilities sitting gathering dust that could provide homes to these alternative schools. "Gathering dust" is actually a gross simplification of what it is like to be granted the use of one of these sites. The buildings are literally falling apart, left even without the plumbing's copper tubing that has been stolen for the money that it brings.
I have recently been invited to tour a couple of these places once they have been repaired and improved. The inhabitants are as proud of what they have accomplished as new parents. They are excited because they have just pulled off something that is almost impossible to do. These heroes have been able to amass approximately $20 million dollars to construct classrooms for public school students through strenuous and stressful efforts that no one involved in the field of helping children should ever have to endure in a moral universe.
Ms. Brown points out that the new Ballou is being built to hold 1,400 students. But only 700 pupils are currently enrolled. Could the Mayor, the "One City" Mayor, have announced at yesterday's ceremony that a hypothetical charter that serves kids living in poverty, and has already proven that it is able to close the academic achievement gap, is going to co-locate in this beautiful space? I'm sure among our town's leaders, this was not even a passing thought.