In e-mailed responses to questions, Gray cited initiatives he has launched to help charters, including increased special education funding and an accelerated process for turning over vacant city school buildings.
“I have kept my promise,” Gray said.
But charter educators, feeling misled, said Gray has ducked core issues of facilities, funding and fairness. The District is spending $5,986 per student this year for construction and renovation of city school buildings. Charter schools, not included in the capital budget, received $3,000 per student to lease or purchase buildings, an allotment that will dip to $2,959 in 2013 — a sector-wide decrease of $1.3 million — because of changes in federal funding policy.
“The expectation was that he would move to equalize,” said Donald Hense, chairman and chief executive of the Friendship Public Charter School system. “My question is, when does he plan to start?”
Separate and unequal?
The field next to Friendship Collegiate Academy along Minnesota Avenue NE is strewn with glass and trash. This is where the Friendship Knights, the District’s best high school football team last year, prepared for its championship season. It is also where the baseball team practiced this spring.
Since 2008, the city has upgraded at least seven public high school fields (including Anacostia, Cardozo, Eastern, Spingarn, Wilson and Woodson) with NFL-quality synthetic turf. At the edge of Friendship’s field, owned by the Department of Parks and Recreation, are two dank industrial storage bins that serve as locker rooms. Most of the Knights’ offseason weight-training program takes place in a third-floor hallway because the room set aside can accommodate only a handful of players.
It’s not just a matter of pride, but also safety, the players said. At baseball practice, junior Terrance Crestwell shagged flyballs with his right knee wrapped in an imposing white bandage, vestige of a ligament injury suffered in October while practicing as a linebacker on the substandard field.
“There have been a lot of injuries,” Crestwell said.
At first glance, it appears that the city’s public and public charter schoolchildren enjoy uniform funding under the law. It provides from $9,000 to $28,000 a year per student, depending on grade and level of need. But inequities are embedded throughout the system.
Traditional city schools are funded each spring based on projected enrollment for the coming academic year. The system overestimated its population for the 2011-12 school year by more than 2,000, meaning it received about $18 million for new students who did not turn up in the annual audited count. School leaders were not asked to return the funds.