District officials are moving closer to changes in the law that would allow charter schools--currently open to all eligible students citywide-- to grant admissions preference to families in surrounding neighborhoods.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown has included in the FY 13 budget legislation provisions for a task force to study the issue and report its recommendations by Oct. 1. The budget comes up for the first of two council votes on Tuesday.
Right now only siblings of current students and offspring of founding board members get preference in charter school admissions. If enrollment exceeds available space, admission is decided by lottery. Brown said the robust growth of the city’s charter school sector--now serving 41 percent of the city’s public school population on 98 campuses--makes it increasingly difficult to justify excluding families who live nearby. The issue is likely to become even more urgent in neighborhoods where underenrolled traditional public schools may be closed next year and possibly replaced with charters.
“I think everyone knows that the current system as a model is not going to work as we continue to move forward,” Brown said in an interview Thursday.
The task force would be headed by D.C. Public Charter School Board Chairman Brian Jones or a designee. It would also include D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright, State Superintendent of Education Hosanna Mahaley (or designees) and two charter school leaders. Wright has expressed support for the idea of neighborhood preference.
Brown said the preference could be established by setting aside a certain number of seats in schools, or weighting the lotteries in some way.
Some charter leaders are leery, concerned that it would erode their autonomy. At a budget hearing last month Scott Pearson, executive director of the charter board, was guarded in his comments. But some schools are said to be interested, and Brown said that the time is right for the change, which has been implemented in New Orleans and Chicago.
“This is a pattern that is taking place throughout the country,” Brown said.