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Government and People
Mrs. Josephine Baker, Chair
Committee on Education, Libraries and Recreation
D.C. City Council
March 8, 2002
Chairman Chavous and Members of the Committee on Education. Libraries and Recreation
I am Josephine Baker, Chair of the Dc Public Charter School Board, and am joined at the witness table by Thomas Loughlin, vice-chair of the Board. We welcome the opportunity to update you on the progress of the public charter schools for which our Board provides oversight.
In September 2001 nineteen schools on twenty-three campuses opened under the authority of this Board. The four new schools among the nineteen included one elementary, two middle schools, and one high school. One middle school and the high school opened with sixth and ninth grades respectively; the other middle school with grade six and seven. This is an important point, especially at these levels, because by beginning with one or two grade levels the school has the opportunity to establish high standards and a productive school culture. They are making a steady start, and there is a positive energy in these schools that will promote learning. The elementary school serves students in grades kindergarten through five.
The number of students in schools chartered by this Board, which includes Pre-K through adult education is, by enrollment count, 7,700, an increase of 20% from last school year. This number reflects not only students in new schools, but also students entering schools as grade levels are expanded. The total number of students in charter schools is estimated to be 10,000. You may ask why the word estimate is used. We met with the contractor for the enrollment count last week and received their records of the headcount for the October 5 audit. The Board was charged with setting up a process for verification and appeals, and the deadline for the completion of this phase ends in late March.
We do thank the education committee and the council for developing a process that enables schools to start the school year with adequate funds for opening. The Uniform Per Pupil Funding Formula (UPPFF) provides schools with accurate information for planning, and the quarterly payment cycle is very beneficial. The State Education Office has worked tirelessly to develop a recommendation for change in the UPPFF base from $5,907 (FY 2002) to $6,470 in FY 2003. This will move us a step closer to the needed funding level for quality education. An increase is provided, not only for grade levels, but also for special education and ESL. In the past the costs for delivery of appropriate services for students with special needs has far exceeded the funds designated in the formula. This is an area that must continue to be evaluated so that these programs for children in all our public schools are funded at levels that do not negatively impact the regular program.
In school year 2000-2001 there were some exciting gains which generated excitement in our community. A high school that posted a slight decrease in its National Curve Equivalent in SY 1999-2000 showed enormous growth this year in both reading and math with 63% and 93% of the population showing gains in reading and math respectively. This school, which retained more than half of its ninth grade class in its first year of operation, instituted an aggressive intervention program that has netted these results. Those ninth graders, except those who were retained, are now twelfth graders, and I was informed last week that all of this senior class of twenty-five students have submitted multiple applications for college. New approaches and hard work have begun to turn around the expectations and results of this very difficult population. High expectations can bring about positive results through the "self-fulfilling prophecy Other schools at all levels have shown steady progress in some very difficult populations, and yes, some schools are still struggling to move in an upward trajectory.
Accountability continues as an operative for how we provide oversight for the schools that we have chartered. The annual review process is now taking place with designated review teams for each school. The procedure used for first year schools involves a self-study by the school prior to the review team's on-site visit. This data enables us to inform the public through our annual report and school performance report; they give a broad picture of the status of the schools we have chartered.
This is year number four for eight schools, and we have already begun dialogue about the fifth-year review. The DC School Reform Act requires a review to determine if a charter school will continue after five years. A draft of our process was shared with the schools who gave meaningful input to the draft document. The document that emerged and was shared with representatives of the schools clearly reflected their input while maintaining a high standard of accountability. The PCSB continues to communicate with the schools it charters while holding them to a high level of accountability. We know that this is indeed a "tightrope" act, but one that we feel brings us the best possible results over the long term.
Mr. Loughlin will speak to the issue of facilities.
Thank you Mrs. Baker, and thank you Chairman Chavous and members of the committee for inviting us to testify today.
The D.C. Public Charter School Board recently marked its fifth year anniversary. We as a Board have found the experience to be rewarding and gratifying. However, while we believe that charter schools have produced some extraordinary results and offer great promise, our optimism is tempered by a serious and troubling dynamic.
That dynamic - the dearth of suitable, affordable facilities available to our public charter schools - is reaching crisis stage. The difficulties our schools face in securing facilities is pervasive, and threaten to stall the progress made by our city's charter schools in its tracks.
Two to three years ago, many landlords were elated to rent their properties to charter schools, and many helped to facilitate necessary renovations. Some of our schools moved into temporary locations, with the view that better, long-term facilities would be secured as the schools evolved.
The present, booming real estate economy in our city is now putting suitable facilities for our charter schools out of reach. Our schools are unable to compete for attractive, appropriate properties as they come to market.
The Public Charter School Board continues to support the use of suitable school structures as resources for charter schools. Our schools should not have to compete on the open market for buildings in the city's inventory.
Several of our schools are nearing crisis mode due to intractable facilities issues. One school authorized by our Board was unable to open thus year due to its inability to secure a location. One of our high schools must leave its quarters on June 30 as the landlord begins renovation of the complex for commercial purposes. Another very successful high school has outgrown its space, and is therefore unable to extend its excellent educational offerings to the numbers originally authorized under its charter. Other schools authorized by our Board have struggled long and hard at tremendous financial cost, expending enormous emotional energy as well, to occupy appropriate educational facilities. The efforts of these schools boards' on behalf of our community have been nothing less than heroic.
While the nature of charter schools is dynamic and entrepreneurial, there is a limit to our schools' abilities to be creative in the area of facilities. As schools expand their programs, the need for expanded facilities naturally follows. The schools need more than just classroom space - they need cafeterias, science labs, playing fields - that are simply unobtainable in storefronts and church basements.
We look to your leadership in working with the charter school community in developing solutions to the facilities difficulties that we face. Thank you for ,providing us with the opportunity to discuss the progress of the schools we have chartered. We look forward to your questions.
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