September 5 2012

“Second Class” or Head of the Class?

Vicki E. Alger

What makes DC parents flock to a charter school housed in what used to be an auto-repair warehouse with a leaky tin roof instead of nearby public schools with multi-million dollar facilities? Superior education results.

D.C. charter schools posted higher overall scores on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System. Their 80 percent graduation rate is 20 percentage points higher than D.C. district-run high schools and about 5 percentage points above the national average.

D.C. Charter schools are doing all this with far less funding. D.C. district-run schools get nearly $30,000 per student, while DC charter schools get just over $9,000 in per pupil base funding, plus an additional $3,000 to $8,400 in facilities allotments. (See p. D-59.) Plus, charter school funding is awarded quarterly based on real-time student enrollment counts. District-run public schools, in contrast, get their funding based on prior year student counts that often result in faulty numbers. For example, D.C. Public Schools overestimated is student count last year by more than 2,000 students, meaning it received about $18 million for students who never showed up.

Those results help explain why DC charter school enrollment, currently 41 percent of the District’s 77,000 students, “will surpass the traditional public school population before the end of the decade,” according to the Washington Post, which adds:

There is an average of 140 to 200 square feet per student in traditional public schools.

In comparison, the average in charter schools is 100 square feet per student.

Politically speaking, support for charter schools has been hard to come by. Politicians continue to cling to the notion that charter schools are experimental and thus not deserving of more money. Moreover, those on the Board of Education are unwilling to admit that charter schools are a better model for educating children and thus don't want to throw their support behind privately-operated schools.

Parents and a majority of Americans know better. According to the latest annual poll of America’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools by Phi Delta Kappan and Gallup, two-thirds of respondents favor charter schools. Another 70 percent favor parent-trigger laws that allow parents to petition to remove teachers and staff at failing schools.

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