The interests being advanced by this effort are indeed quite special. They are those of the nearly 44,000 children — most of them black or Hispanic, and many of them economically disadvantaged — who are enrolled in public charter schools, and the thousands more who languish on waiting lists because of a lack of facilities. The administration’s churlish response to this problem is troubling, another sign it doesn’t have the same sense of obligation to public charter school students as it does to those enrolled in the traditional school system.
At issue is the charters’ ongoing struggle, exacerbated in recent years by a hot real estate market, to find space. Federal law gives charter schools, which receive a facilities stipend, the right to make the first offer to purchase, lease or otherwise use excess public school facilities. But charter school advocates say successive administrations have flouted this requirement, with Mayor Muriel E. Bowser’s (D) being the worst. A citywide campaign — “End the List,” referring to the 12,000 students who are on waitlists for seats in high-performing public charter schools — aims to get the city to release abandoned school buildings or make space in underutilized public buildings.
The effort has clearly gotten under the skin of city officials, as evidenced by Mr. Kihn’s pointed “special interest group” comment to The Post’s Perry Stein. They argue that charter school advocates are promoting a false set of facts. No doubt assessments can differ of what may be available, and there may be reasons for the city, with school system enrollment increasing, to hold on to some schools. But only once in Ms. Bowser’s nearly five-year tenure has she proposed a lease of a city building to a charter. Some buildings stand empty and in disrepair even as top-ranked charters scramble for space. It makes no sense — unless, of course, the aim is to hinder the growth of charters, which now account for 46 percent of D.C. public school enrollment.
Administration officials say that is not their goal, but it was not so long ago that Mr. Kihn raised concerns about the D.C. Public Charter School Board approving new schools while there were empty seats in traditional schools. It was also not long ago that the city sat on its hands as the top-tier AppleTree Early Learning Public Charter was forced to close its Southwest campus after it lost its city space.
If Mr. Kihn wants more children in the traditional sector, he should concentrate on improving those schools, not forcing children to attend because they have no other options. Ms. Bowser recently met with some members of the charter school sector. We hope that’s a sign her administration is ready to offer more than excuses for inaction.