Muriel Bowser's strong victory last night over Vincent Gray in the District's Democratic primary for Mayor creates tremendous uncertainty in the 18 year effort toward school reform in the nation's capital. The editors of the Washington Post put it this way:
"Under the consistent leadership of the first school chancellor of the mayoral-control era, Michelle Rhee, and her successor, Kaya Henderson, along with Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, the city has made unprecedented progress in improving educational options for all children. Both Ms. Bowser and Mr. Catania say they want to accelerate that progress, which is commendable. Voters will want to know how they propose to do so without the kind of disruptions that, in the past, have so often set back school reform."
But disruptions are almost certain to come. Miss Bowser failed to commit during her campaign to keeping Kaya Henderson on as DCPS Chancellor, a highly visible lack of support for someone fighting day and night in the trenches to provide a quality educational seat for all. The Councilwoman has also said she wants to force charter schools to have a neighborhood preference for admission, a proposal a panel of experts soundly rejected.
The well-respected Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith has work in progress in many areas. I had the opportunity to catch up with her at the recent FOCUS Gala, and as I was speaking to her everyone in the vicinity kept telling me what a great job she was doing and how much they like her. She may be the second casualty of a new Administration.
There is the promise by Mr. Gray to turn over vacant DCPS buildings to charters, a process that was going full steam ahead until the election season started. Finally, we have the Adequacy Study which for the first time documented illegal funding for the traditional schools outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula to which charters have been denied access. Mayor Gray is to introduce a new budget tomorrow that is anticipated to have money allocated to close this gap. Now, the recommendations coming out of this document may very well be trashed.
Politicians have so many ways that they can restrict the freedom and autonomy of charters, as the FOCUS executive director Robert Cane pointed out last week. Let's prepare for a new round of attacks so that we may preserve the academic progress this school system that educates 44 percent of all public school children has been able to achieve.