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All D.C. charter schools shouldn’t have to admit neighborhood kids first, panel says

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The District should consider allowing charter schools that move into closed D.C. public school buildings to give admissions preference to children who live nearby, according to a task force convened by the D.C. Council.

But the city should not allow or compel other charters to give such a neighborhood preference, the 12-member task force wrote Friday in a report to the council.

“Neighborhood preference would not increase the number of quality seats” in high-performing schools, the report said, “but simply ration them based on the location of a student’s home.”

Charter schools now enroll kids from across the city, conducting lotteries if there is more demand than space. That gives students equal access to admission — but it can also shut them out of the school down the street.

Parents’ complaints led the council to create the panel, which met four times this fall. It included representatives from D.C. public schools, the executive and legislative branches of city government, the teachers union, and the charter school community.

Early on, task force members raised concerns that establishing an admissions preference for charter schools would defeat the goal of ensuring that school choice isn’t limited by Zip code.

Thousands of students in wards 7 and 8, some of the poorest parts of the city, currently go to charter schools elsewhere. They would stand to lose access to high-performing charters if neighborhood preference were implemented, the report said.

D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who has been among the most vocal backers of a neighborhood admissions preference, said he would stop pushing for it. “I think for viable neighborhoods that will attract families with children, we must offer neighborhood elementary schools that families can walk to,” he said. “If the definition of charter schools is such that they can’t provide that, then we need to find a different way to provide it.”

Task force members representing the deputy mayor for education and the office of the state superintendent pushed for the recommendation to allow charters to opt for neighborhood preference when they move into closed DCPS schools.

That is especially important given the city’s current proposal to close 20 schools next year. Allowing students to stay in those schools would “ease the transition for students, families and communities impacted by these closures,” the report said.

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