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D.C. Mayoral campaign leaving charter school sector in dark

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The Washington Post had another story over the weekend about the views of Mayoral candidates Muriel Bowser and David Catania on the current school boundary discussions and whether and where to build a new middle school. Lost in the thousands of words tracking these politician's discussions of the traditional schools is what they would do in office regarding charters.

Their silence on this subject is odd. After all, serious school reform in the District of Columbia began with the charter movement. It was only after more than 25 percent of DCPS's student population fled to be educated in these alternative schools that Mayor Fenty was elected on his promise to takeover and fix the regular schools. He then hired Michelle Rhee, and began spending millions to modernize severely dilapidated classrooms. The progress that we have witnessed under Chancellor Rhee and that has continued under Kaya Henderson is due only to the competition for pupils that charters instigated.

Since this time the charter school system has matured and has correctly focused more on quality than quantity. Poor schools have been closed and the D.C. Public Charter School Board developed the Performance Management Framework to shine a bright light on those institutions that are doing well and therefore should expand and replicate, and those that should no longer be in business.

The education of our children is a topic on everyone's mind so you might have assumed that the current issues facing charters would be front and center in a Mayoral contest. You would be wrong. Not mentioned is if shuttered DCPS buildings will be turned over to charters, whether the illegal and unethical difference in operational funding between the two systems will be corrected, and how to solve the problem of charters gaining access to the capital improvement dollars the traditional schools have used to build shining classrooms found only at our country's elite colleges and universities.

Charter schools do like their autonomy combined with accountability, so being left alone by those running for office is not altogether a bad thing. However, there are crucial policy issues that the group that educates 44 percent of all public school children is up against, and decisions in these areas will impact how far as a community we can get toward our common goal of providing every kid who needs one a quality seat. The conversation about these topics really cannot wait another day.

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