D.C. Charter School Applications Halted

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The D.C. Board of Education yesterday imposed a moratorium on charter school applications and approved a resolution beginning a process that ultimately could lead to the board getting out of the chartering business.

For the second time in two years, the board agreed to the moratorium so it could study how the 17 publicly funded, independently operated schools it oversees affect its supervision of the 147 traditional public schools. The board put no time limit on the moratorium, which, as emergency legislation, took effect immediately.

The school board also scheduled a public hearing for July 18 to allow Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), the D.C. Council, parents and residents to comment on whether it should relinquish authority over the charter schools. Board members agreed to further research how best the board could turn over the 17 schools to another, unspecified agency, information they will use when they make their final decision in September.

The council and possibly Congress, which established the charter school law, would have the final say on the issue. The law authorized the Board of Education and the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees 34 of the city's 51 charter schools, to approve and oversee charter schools in the District.

Both proposals passed by votes of 6 to 1. William Lockridge (District 4) was the only member to oppose both measures. Board members said charter schools are increasingly becoming a distraction, taking valuable time from their primary focus of reforming traditional schools.

"I personally chose to undergo the challenge of running [for the school board] not because I wanted to be an authorizer of charter schools, but because I wanted to have a substantive impact on the D.C. public schools," said Victor Reinoso (District 2).

But Lockridge said overseeing charter schools is part of the responsibility of the board, one it should not relinquish. Although he supports some limit on the number of charter schools it oversees, Lockridge said he voted against the moratorium because no cap was proposed.

Lockridge suggested that the board appoint another body to take on the daily responsibilities of overseeing the charter schools. "We can invest power in another body, which would report back to us," he said.

Board members have long been divided on their role in overseeing charter schools. Some members have called for the board to give up charter schools, agreeing with criticism by education advocates and the U.S. Government Accountability Office that the board lacks the resources and expertise to properly monitor the schools. But they had been overruled by members who argued that the board should simply work harder to overcome the problems.

Now members who previously supported maintaining supervision of charter schools are changing their minds. In recent months, the school board went through a lengthy process to close a financially and academically troubled school, Jos-Arz Therapeutic Public Charter School, a task some saw as a distraction from primary responsibilities.

Also, the board is dealing with a federal investigation into possible misuse of public funds by its charter school oversight office. Brenda L. Belton, who oversees the office, has been placed on paid administrative leave.

The board yesterday also rejected the requests of six applicants seeking to establish charter schools. The proposed schools were Paul Robeson-Shirley Horn School of the Performing and Visual Arts, D.C. VocTech, Washington Academy of Excellence, Academy of SUCCESS, Host Vocational and Metropolitan Allied Health Institute.

Board members said the applications did not meet their criteria for providing for such unmet needs in the city as special education.

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