Charter purists don’t like it, but there is growing political energy behind the idea, as evidenced by Tuesday’s D.C. Council hearing for the FY13 Public Charter School Board budget.
Right now, charters are open to eligible students citywide, with lotteries to determine admission if demand exceeds space. Traditional D.C. public schools, with the exception of the selective high schools, must take all eligible students within their attendance boundaries.
D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown has been pushing for a closer look at having some charter schools operate with a neighborhood admissions preference. On several occasions, including Tuesday, Brown has described the dilemma of the family shut out from the high-performing charter across the street and relegated to a sub-par neighborhood public school. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) has raised the issue. Deputy mayor for education De’Shawn Wright said in a recent interview that he supports the idea and there are said to be charters in the District that are interested.
Some cities (Chicago, Denver) have established neighborhood preferences for some of their charter schools. But the concept is not popular within the charter movement, which regards it as a potential threat to school autonomy and the breadth of choice for families outside the neighborhoods in question. Others warn that it could adversely impact a charter school if neighborhood families don’t buy into a school’s culture or educational philosophy.
D.C. charter board executive director Scott Pearson, in an interview earlier this year, called it “a very dangerous slippery slope.” But on Tuesday, he sounded a little more flexible, indicating that it might be doable in certain “limited” situations.
Council interest in the neighborhood preference comes from two factors. DCPS is expected to launch a major restructuring in 2013, closing or consolidating underenrolled schools and perhaps reinventing others as charters. Brown is looking for a way to accomodate families who may have their neighborhood public school replaced by a charter.
The IFF school capacity study commissioned by the District found a strong preference for going to school close to home: 74 percent of DCPS students and 57 percent of public charter students attend a school in their neighborhood “cluster.”