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Charter school leaders call for employee's children admission preference

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In a December 19, 2013 letter to D.C. Councilman David Catania, chairman of the education committee, 21 charter school leaders call for an amendment to the D.C. School Reform Act to allow an admission preference for children of charter school staff who live in the nation's capital. The signatures read like a who's who of prominent education reformers in this town, among them Martha Cutts (Washington Latin PCS), Jennie Niles (E.L. Haynes PCS), Donald Hense (Friendship PCS), Shantelle Wright (Achievement Preparatory PCS), Susan Schaeffler (KIPP DC), Linda Moore (Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS), Emily Lawson (DC Prep PCS), Alexandra Pardo (Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS), and Jessica Wodatch (Two Rivers PCS).

The logical argument in favor of the preference goes like this. Quality teachers are the key to the academic success of students. Competition for excellent teachers is high, especially considering the funding inequity between charters and traditional schools. Retention of good teachers reinforces a successful school's culture. As teachers have children it becomes extremely difficult regarding scheduling to work at one institution while offspring receive their education at another. Many jurisdictions that permit chartered schools have admission preference for staff. Here is an example of the justification from the document:

"Seven years ago, my husband was a young teacher just starting his career, and he was hired at a new charter school just finding its feet. As the school has grown into an accomplished place of learning, he has grown into a seasoned educator and administrator. We now have young children and are making decisions about where we will raise them. We believe deeply in public education and desire to commit to and invest in a school community. It is our hope that our children will attend wherever my husband is teaching.

We are not alone as we face these decisions. As the charter school system matures, the teacher demographic is aging as well and increasingly starting families. The schools are better places for the experience and commitment of these teachers. If charter schools are able to provide an employee-child preference, they will be far more likely to retain their strong workforce.

Charter schools cultivate a unique sense of community that is pivotal to their educational success. Community is stronger when families and teachers are deeply invested. How much stronger would the community, and ultimately the success of students, be were it to have the families of teachers enrolled?

A number of teachers have left my husband's school for institutions where the children of faculty are guaranteed enrollment. We hope that DC charter schools will be allowed to offer that same opportunity to faculty families."

The letter's authors would like one clause added to the School Reform Act's section on charter school admission, enrollment, and withdrawal. It would say (change in bold):

If there are more applications to enroll in a public charter school from students who are residents of the District of Columbia than there are spaces available, students shall be admitted using a random selection process, except that a preference in admission may be given to an applicant who is a sibling of a student already attending or selected for admission to the public charter school in which the applicant is seeking enrollment, or to an applicant who is a child of a member of the public charter school's founding board, so long as enrollment of founders' children is limited to no more than 10% of the school's total enrollment or to 20 students, whichever is less, or to an applicant who is a child of a staff member of the public charter school so long as the total number of students allowed under this exemption constitutes only a small percentage of the school’s total enrollment.

Let's all hope that this common sense amendment makes it into law.

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