Twelve public charter schools and campuses of two others have closed their doors over the last four years. They either shut down on their own, often for financial reasons, or were put out of business by the D.C. Public Charter School Board over academic or governance issues.
In theory, the District is not responsible for debts or other obligations left behind by the independent, non-profit boards that operate the schools. In practice, the city has spent a little over $1 million since 2008 closing out failed charter schools, executive director Scott Pearson told the D.C. Council on Tuesday.
Pearson said some of the money has helped strapped schools pay their bills so that they don’t put students on the street before the end of the. academic year. Other funds have been used to meet teacher payroll. The tab would have been higher, Pearson said, if the board didn’t have pro-bono counsel to cover litigation costs. (The board plans to hire a general counsel).
“To close a school with integrity, we see it as our responsibility to make sure that the students’ learning is minimally disrupted and that they end up at better schools, whether traditional or public charter,” Pearson said in his prepared testimony.
The most expensive of the four years was 2011, according to board figures. It spent $438,632 as SAIL and Thea Bowman relinquished their charters and Nia Community was closed for poor academic performance. IDEAL and William E. Doar Jr. also voluntarily closed their high school campuses.
According to a chronology provided by the board, 80 schools across 117 campuses have been opened—either by the charter board or the old Board of Education—since 1996, when the School Reform Act paved the way for the city’s charter sector. Twenty-eight have closed, a failure rate of 35 percent. That’s more than twice the national rate of 15 percent, according to the Center for Education Reform, a charter research and advocacy group. The total price tag is anybody’s guess.
Pearson said the board has never set aside money for closing costs, but would earmark $150,000 for that contingency in fiscal year 2013. The board did not ask for extra funding from the City Council. Pearson has, however proposed an increase in the annual administrative fee paid by charter schools to help support the board’s oversight role.