1. Will the Gray Administration figure out how to solve the funding inequity issue between charters and DCPS?
The Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Education Smith have promised that the shortfall in public funding for charters compared to traditional schools, estimated to be around $100 million annually, is being studied and a report will be issued as early as this month. Mr. Gray ran for office on the promise of funding equity between the two systems, and since the election a couple of years ago there has been extremely little progress on this issue. The most interesting aspect of the question is if the Administration fails to live up to thier commitment what will be the reaction of the charter sector? Will some strong step be taken such as bringing the matter to court or will these schools that now educate 43 percent of all public school students just crawl into a corner to complain?
2. Will the D.C. Public Charter School Board stand up to the efforts of others to regulate charter schools?
The Mayor talks about neighborhood preferences, guaranteed student feeder relationships between traditional elementary schools and charter middle schools, and coordination of facility locations between the two school sectors. Mr. Gray, along with Mr. Catania, the chairman of the Council's education committee, calls for a common lottery and waitlist between charters and the traditional schools. Will the time come when the PCSB exerts its authority to say that it is the legal body that regulates charters and tells other public leaders to step aside?
3. Will charters reach the 50 percent mark of the public school student population?
There are a sufficient number of charter school seats to achieve this milestone. However, DCPS Chancellor Henderson, embolden by the recent DC CAS scores of her sector, is making a positive and aggressive case for families to stay within her system. The rapid growth of charters has sent a shock wave across the political class that favors the traditional appoach to public education. Once charters achieve this level of enrollment the reaction will be pure panic. It will be extremely interesting to see if legislative steps are attempted to reduce or end the growth of these alternative schools.
4. Will Chancellor Henderson be given chartering authority?
Mr. Gray has proposed that the Chancellor be given the ability to charter her own schools, a power she has sought. Across the country competing authorities has been shown to help improve the quality of charter schools. However, there is fear in the local charter sector that Ms. Henderson will not set up the same system of autonomy and accountability established by the PCSB. Some believe that this plan is simply a ploy to bring in high performing charter operators to take over failing traditional schools. If this is truly the case then the proposal should be rejected because it would actually harm the overall D.C. movement.
5. What will become of empty school buildings?
The Washington Post's Emma Brown poses the question this morning and it is an excellent one. The Deputy Mayor announced last May that 16 vacant school buildings will be turned over to charters or community organizations even though Chancellor Henderson had strongly opposed this move. Those of us in the charter movement are holding our breath to see if the decision was a momentary period of politicians coming to their senses or a real change in policy that will be faithfully followed going forward. After all, as FOCUS has pointed out for years, the law is extremely clear that charters must receive right of first offer for all surplus DCPS buildings. Another crucial aspect of this debate is whether charters can get access to the millions of dollars per year now being spent on traditional public school modernization. This is a vital part of the equity issue that must be resolved without delay.