DC's Public Charter Schools:
Reform that works for DC's most underserved children
Charter schools are independent public schools that are free to innovate and are held accountable for improved student performance.
Increasingly popular among District parents and children
District public charter schools now educate 44 percent of public school children in Washington, DC--a higher share than any other big city except New Orleans. The first DC public charter schools enrolled 160 students in 1996. Today, nearly 37,000 students are enrolled at over 100 campuses.
Free to innovate...
Charter schools are public schools, just a different kind. Publicly funded, tuition free and nonsectarian--like traditional public schools--they are open to all DC resident children and receive public funds according to how many students they enroll.
Public charter schools have additional freedoms and responsibilities that have enabled them to get ahead of the curve in improving public education in the District. Free to determine their own school policies and programs, charters are held accountable for improving student achievement by DC's Public Charter School Board. Innovations include longer school days and years, more intimate learning environments, and preparing children for college from the earliest age.
DC public charter schools have closed the citywide student achievement gap between black and white students by 25% in three years.
...and held accountable for improved student performance
Free from city bureaucracy and political control, public charter schools are required to follow civil rights laws, federal mandates and the regulations that govern nonprofits. Public charter schools must report to the DC Public Charter School Board, whose members are appointed by the Mayor, with the advice and consent of the District of Columbia Council.
A nationally renowned model of school accountability, the PCSB rejects two public charter school applications for every one it accepts. PCSB monitors every public charter school to guarantee its academic achievement, managerial competence and financial health and conducts a high stakes review every five years. One in four public charter schools has lost its charter following an unsatisfactory review. All such schools underperformed academically, proving that the DC public charter school reform represents real public education accountability for schools, parents and children.
Charter schools are unique public schools that foster a partnership between parents, teachers and students to create an environment in which parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate and students are provided the structure they need to learn.
Children enrolled in DC middle and high public charter schools with a majority of economically-disadvantaged students are nearly twice as likely to be proficient in reading and math as their peers in DC's traditional public schools.
The high school graduation rate for DC public charter schools is 21 percentage points higher than at regular DC public schools. The graduation rate is one percentage points higher than the U.S. national average.
DC public charter school students are 83 percent African-American, 11 percent Latino and 82 percent economically disadvantaged. And DC's public charter schools have higher shares of African-American and economically-disadvantaged students than the city-run public schools.
Fairness for every District child
Against all the odds, DC's public charter schools are raising the bar for public education in the District. In spite of this, the government underfunds public charter school students compared to their peers in DC's traditional public schools. (Recently the charter schools filed a lawsuit, asking the federal district court to order that the government obey the law and provide equal operating funding to the public charter schools.) What's more, DC public charter schools receive less than half the public facilities funding that city-run schools receive on a per student basis.
Equally egregious, the D.C. government gets in the way of public charter schools locating in public school buildings no longer needed by the school system. By law DC public charter schools have the right to lease such buildings. Sadly, however, the DC government often ignores this law, instead selling the buildings to developers of luxury condominums, boutique hotels, trendy health clubs and high-end retail space or letting the buildings become derelict. As a result, many DC public charter schools occupy unsuitable warehouses, retail and office spaces or church annexes and basements, often lacking playgrounds, playing fields, gymnasiums, cafeterias and auditoriums.
Download a PDF of FOCUS' public education brochure HERE.