City schools benefit from other sources of cash that bypass charters. An independent commission reported to the D.C. Council this year that the city system receives from $26 million to $46 million annually from other city agencies for costs that charters must cover with per-pupil allotments. These include expenses for building maintenance and legal services. D.C. schools also have secured additional millions in midyear supplemental appropriations for cost overruns.
City officials contend that the inequities are neither as deep nor as clear-cut as depicted by the charter community. Facilities spending for city schools reflects the high cost of renovating buildings that have suffered from decades of neglect, they said. D.C. leaders also assert that their obligation to operate a system of neighborhood schools — where all within attendance boundaries have a right to enroll — is likely to always be more expensive than the charter sector, where school enrollments are capped.
“I don’t think it’s fair to call it inequity. It’s a different model of education,” said De’Shawn Wright, the District’s deputy mayor for education, who oversaw the opening of charter schools in New York City and Newark.
For every disadvantage cited by charter schools, Wright said, he can counter with one that city schools must deal with.
“We can play tit for tat, but I’m not interested,” he said.
D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told the D.C. Council in February that the city has been too quick to help charter schools find facilities.
“We have not been planful in the way we’ve allowed the charter sector to blossom,” Henderson said, adding that charters often surround neighborhood schools and “starve” them of enrollment.
Other city leaders said worthy charter schools should be able to draw enough private backing to fill gaps in taxpayer support.
“Part of the idea was we released them from a lot of government regulations and requirements so they could innovate,” council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) said. “If no one wants to fund their innovation, you have to question their innovation.”
Some charter networks are prodigious private fundraisers. One of the District’s most celebrated charter school operators, the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP DC, with 2,600 students across nine campuses (and a 10th to open this fall), listed $4.9 million in contributions and grants in its 2011-12 budget, 9.5 percent of total revenue. The subsidies help fund the extended school day and year central to the KIPP program. (Donald E. Graham, chairman and chief executive of The Washington Post Co., sits on the KIPP DC board and personally contributed $75,000 last year, according to KIPP’s annual report.) D.C. public schools have also received significant private support, including more than $60 million over the past three years for teacher performance bonuses.