Nine parents, activists and school leaders showed up Monday to testify on bills to improve parent engagement and create a more independent Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Last week, a dozen people spoke about bills related to school facilities and enrollment lotteries.
Turnout may increase Tuesday for a hearing on some of Catania’s most controversial proposals, including a new local accountability system that would require DCPS schools to be closed or turned into charter-like “innovation schools” if they fail to meet performance targets.
Like Gray administration officials — who testified in a separate hearing on July 2 — members of the public have offered mixed reaction to Catania’s proposals in the first two hearings, July 3 and July 8. Here are four main themes that emerged:
Charter school advocates like Catania’s facilities bill.
Under current law, charter schools are supposed to get first dibs on surplus traditional school buildings. But some empty DCPS schools have ended up in the hands of developers, while others have sat vacant for years.
Meanwhile, charters continue to open in church basements and converted commercial spaces that lack gyms, cafeterias and other features that parents expect in a school.
“The problem of charter school access to facilities has been one of the most wearying problems that I’ve had to deal with,” said Robert Cane of the pro-charter group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.
Gray administration officials recently announced that they plan to release more than a dozen DCPS buildings to charters, but Catania argues that the city needs an ongoing and systematic process to dispose of buildings.
His bill requires the DCPS chancellor to issue five-year facilities plans explaining which buildings the school system needs. The bill also outlines a process for transferring surplus DCPS buildings to charters and gives the D.C. Public Charter School Board a right to take the city to court if it feels the chancellor is wrongly holding onto buildings.
Cane called the proposal “much needed and long overdue.”
Critics argue that the facilities bill is shortsighted and hastens the transfer of public assets into private hands.
Catania's bill misses the point, said Mary Filardo of the 21st Century Schools Fund, an expert in school facilities. The problem is not that charters don’t have enough access to buildings, she said, but that the District has no comprehensive plan for facilities and ends up using school buildings and capital dollars inefficiently.
Filardo said she's also concerned that if Catania’s bill becomes law, 40 years from now, the city will have disposed of so many of its buildings that it will no longer have the public school buildings it needs to educate kids.