While I was gone, a significant announcement from the D.C. Charter School Board that slipped through without much notice. The board is proposing a streamlined approval process that would allow experienced charter operators with good track records in other cities to open their doors in the District a full year ahead of the current timetable.
The new guidelines, unveiled at the board’s June 18 meeting, would allow seasoned operators to apply by Oct. 1, gain approval by December and open in August 2013. Under current rules, prospective school operators are screened in the first quarter of the year and approved in the spring but take more than a year to actually begin classes. Eligible but inexperienced charter applicants would remain on roughly that timetable.
Officials said the initiative is not designed to put at a disadvantage “mom-and-pop” schools but to improve the overall quality of the charter sector. “D.C. has always benefited from strong homegrown operators,” executive director Scott Pearson said in a statement. With the new policy, “we are broadening our outreach.”
But the change also comes as D.C. officials are working on plans to close underenrolled traditional public schools. The unspoken intent here is to expedite the entry of proven charter operators into the District market as potential replacements. It may also be a way of positioning the board to deal with a potential competitor. Chancellor Kaya Henderson has proposed that DCPS be given the power to open its own charter schools.
Under the proposal, experienced operators would need to show how they could succeed in the District, where a heavy proportion of students work below grade level. They would also need to provide student achievement data and three years of financial audits, among other materials.
The board voted to open a 30-day public comment period and will hold a hearing on July 16. Final guidelines will be released on Aug. 31.
Exactly who would respond to the accelerated application process isn’t clear. But any list of charter networks that officials would like to see here would probably include the California-based Rocketship Education; Uncommon Schools, which operates in Boston, New York and Newark; Breakthrough Schools, a Cleveland charter group, and Alliance College Ready Public Schools of Los Angeles.