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Access to Former DCPS School Buildings
Principles of fairness dictate that all public school children should have equal access to publicly-funded buildings in which to go to school. But in DC, charter school kids are at a distinct disadvantage. In spite of a law giving the charter schools a “right of first offer” whenever the government disposes of a former DCPS school building by sale, lease, or transfer, the leaders of DC’s charter schools often lose out to commercial developers and others with inside access to government officials—often by means of a process lacking transparency and integrity.
Fifty-eight former DCPS school buildings were available when the first charter schools opened in 1996, and many more have been closed since—two dozen or so by former Chancellor Michelle Rhee in 2008 and 2009, of which charters took possession of only six. In January 2013, Chancellor Kaya Henderson announced her plan to close 15 DCPS buildings for various future purposes, but not a single one of these buildings was designated to be offered to charter schools, in direct violation of the law. Some of these buildings eventually were offered to the charter schools, but most--and many additional buildings no longer needed by DCPS--have not been.
This pattern of law breaking means that the majority of charter school students still attend school in commercial buildings, many of which lack educational amenities such as playgrounds, gymnasia, cafeterias, and libraries. Because of the high cost of many of these buildings and inadequate facilities funding, charter schools are able to provide only about 100 square feet per student, compared to DCPS’s standard of 140 elementary, 170 middle school, and 190 high school.
FOCUS continues to lead the fight for equitable access to former DCPS school buildings and also to the unused space in DCPS’s many under-enrolled operating school buildings. We have proposed to the DC Council and the Deputy Mayor for Education the creation of a standing committee to identify former and current DCPS space that could be made available to the charter schools and to develop and oversee the implementation of a legal, fair, and transparent disposition process. So far our suggestion has been ignored.
For more information on school building discrimination against charter school kids take a look at our “Locked Out” brochure from 2010.