April 12, 2000Testimony of Virginia Walden-Ford
Good afternoon, my name is Virginia Walden-Ford, Executive Director of D.C. Parents for School Choice. I am here to express my concern and objection to the amendments presented by Councilmember Jarvis to the Council on the public charter school conversion process.
As an advocate for parents in the District of Columbia and one who is active in education reform efforts, it is alarming to think that Ms. Jarvis would be interested in making a straight-forward process a more bureaucratic one. This directly concerns Bill 13-582 in which a chartering authority is required to notify the Superintendent of an existing public school wishing to convert. The D.C. Public Charter School Board is very diligent in its efforts to inform the public of everything it does from announcing the availability of applications to public hearings on the applications received to also insuring that in the case of conversions, that schools have been very diligent in informing the community.
If you want to require that the School system must prepare an impact statement to inform public officials of how a conversion would effect DCPS, that's fine. Just please make sure that included in this statement is; the past performance of the school in general, what steps have been taken by the Superintendent to correct some of these issues and any parental concerns that have been raised. This is especially important because if parents aren't educated about the entire process, it leads to them being misinformed by those who may wish to prevent such a conversion.
Requiring a 2/3 vote from all eligible voters within the attendance boundary is unfair to the applicant. History has shown us that we can't get 2/3 of the voters out on regular elections. It would require that people come out and vote who might be elderly or those who don't have children or those who would never enroll their children in a public school.
What is most tragic is the fact that the charter school law was written to encourage reform by creating schools that didn't have to deal with bureaucracy. These amendments would have the opposite effect of what carefully drafted legislation was supposed to do for the benefit of parents and their children, to provide their children with the best possible education. This is another form of bureaucracy and it demonstrates that although change is needed and desired, there are those who don't want to see real changes occur.
I strongly believe that it is the chartering authorities' responsibility and job to charter schools that have the best opportunity to provide an excellent education to children. I interpret this to mean that they will investigate and require that applicants provide detailed information about their plans and the implementation process. I further believe that in the case of Paul Junior High School, because we all know this is the reason this legislation was brought forth, that the D.C. Public Charter School was more than diligent. The main indication is that it took Paul three years to be approved. One of the reasons they were turned down before was because of the lack of signatures and/or the validity of the signatures. If the validity was questioned, then one can conclude that those who were charged with the review and investigation of this application took their responsibility seriously and performed their duty to the letter of the law. In fact, I would argue that the D.C. Public Charter School Board performed many of the tasks that Ms. Jarvis would like put into law, as a regular part of the review process, long before anyone thought to make such tasks required by law. These acts let us know that this is an organization that has the best interests of children at heart, without prompting from anyone. These acts indicate that the appointed board understood and interpreted the charter school law in such a way, that amendments of the like that Ms. Jarvis is proposing is not a necessary change to the law.
If requirements are necessary, let's make sure that it is required that the city fund each child the way they are supposed to be funded. IF we want to require that a process be performed, let's ensure that the people hired to perform these audits have had experience performing educational audits. Let us remove obstacles that hinder us from educating our children rather than erecting laws that would further put our children at risk. We have enough of the latter already.
As the mother of a child in a D.C. Public Charter School, I feel compelled to participate in my child's educational experience. I have watched him perform academically in ways I never thought possible. We finally found an educational environment that met his particular needs. He believes that the teachers and administrators at his school care weather he succeeds or not and that has made a big difference in his ability to learn.
Parents in the District have long needed alternatives
for their children who were wasting away in troubled schools not meeting their
needs. The charter school
movement in DC has brought to parents quality schools that are educating
children and with that a renewed interest in becoming involved in the
education of their children.