The Washington Post

D.C. Council halts rental fees for parent-run school enrichment programs

The District’s Department of General Services may no longer collect rent from parents who run enrichment programs in the city’s public schools, under emergency legislation passed unanimously Tuesday by the D.C. Council.

Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) said she introduced the bill to prevent well-meaning parents “from receiving surprise charges from DGS for using their own school buildings.”

Council member Mary Cheh (Sarah L. Voisin/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Cheh was acting in response to complaints from parents at Lafayette Elementary, who this fall discovered they would be charged $1,000 per month to operate a before-school foreign-language program for nearly 90 kids.

DGS had recently reduced the fee to $400 per month, a fee parent organizers said was still prohibitively expensive.

Parent organizers of the Lafayette program were thrilled by the council’s action, saying they hadn’t budgeted for the fee and would have had to end the program if forced to pay.

“This is fantastic news!” parent organizer Julie Stewart wrote in an e-mail.

“As taxpayers, we’re paying for the lights to be on and the buildings to be heated between 8:00 am and 4:30 pm, anyway,” she wrote, “so why not let us use the school buildings to offer our kids language programs, chess, math, book clubs, dance, basketball and a host of other enrichment programs?”

City officials have said outside groups have always had to pay for the use of space in public schools and that fees help defray security, custodial and other costs. But it’s not clear how widely and evenly the policy has been enforced.

The emergency bill stops DGS from charging parents rent only this school year. It calls for department officials to establish rules to go into effect next school year governing the process by which parent groups should secure permission to use building space and the amounts they may be charged.

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.


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