Selected readings on US charter schools
Many of the District’s traditional schools have far fewer children than they were originally designed to hold, driving up the cost of maintenance. Meanwhile, the city’s fast-growing charter schools often struggle to find suitable real estate.
The solution, according to a study commissioned by the city government: Push traditional schools to share space with charters, city agencies and community-based organizations.
Such “co-locations” exist in a few places in the District. In Southeast Washington, for example, Malcolm X Elementary houses its own students as well as those from Achievement Prep Public Charter School. In Northwest, Sharpe Health is home to both a DCPS special-education school and Bridges Public Charter School.
But the District has been far less aggressive about sharing public school space than some other cities, notably New York, where the number of charter schools co-located with traditional schools grew quickly under former Mayor Mike Bloomberg.
Now the District is poised to begin pursuing co-location more aggressively, according to Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, whose office commissioned the D.C. government study. “It’s something that we support and that the chancellor is really interested in,” Smith said, referring to D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Co-locations aren’t always welcomed or easy: Put two schools with different cultures and missions into the same space, and there’s almost sure to be some tension. Co-locations need “substantial oversight and management” in order to work well, the study notes, and the District would have to build its oversight capacity from the ground up.
But co-locations do offer a way to use large public buildings more efficiently.
The D.C. school system is currently using 7.4 million square feet, or about 70 percent of the 10.6 million square feet of school building space in its current portfolio, according to the study.
It costs about $96 million to maintain and operate all 0f the school system’s space; the school system pays part of that bill, but the Department of General Services kicks in about $45 million.
The city is now seeking to minimize that infusion, in part because charter schools do not receive a comparable subsidy, and the law requires both sectors to be equitably funded. Co-located charter schools and organizations would chip in for school system maintenance, thus reducing the cost to the city.
One complicating factor in discussions about equitable space and funding across D.C. schools: traditional schools and charter schools are two different animals that live under different rules.
Traditional schools are legally obligated to serve all students throughout the city, for example, and they have to be able to accept new students at any point throughout the year. They also serve as community centers and public meeting spaces. Charter schools do not face those same obligations. Because the two sectors are so different, Smith points out, it’s not possible to treat them as if they’re exactly the same.
Source: The Washington Post – by Emma Brown