Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Update On Congressional Action On Charter Facilities 

FOCUS D.C. Public Charter School Bulletin

November 23, 2004

Key Charter School Amendments Survive Repeal Effort; Senator Reaffirms
Congressional Role in Promoting School Reform in D.C.

Under intense pressure from the Williams Administration and the Board of
Education, which sought repeal of the surplus property and other amendments
passed just last month by the Congress [Bulletin, November 1, 2004], Senator
Mary Landrieu (D-LA) has agreed to a number of changes to the amendments.
The Senator, however, has held firm on the most important of the surplus
property amendments, citing in a letter to the administration Congress�s
"long and established legislative history" regarding charter school
facilities and chiding the administration for failing to effectively address
the charter schools' facilities needs.

Under the revised amendments, which should become law this week, charter
schools still are guaranteed a "right of first offer" on all current and
future surplus school properties. This phrase replaces the "first
preference" language in the pre-amendment law. Even more significant, the
Congress refused to reinstate a provision of the pre-amendment law that
enabled the administration to ignore the charter school preference whenever
it could make more money by disposing of a surplus building to a non-charter
school buyer.

However, surplus schools that already have been purchased, leased,
transferred, or become subject to an exclusive rights agreement or a
disposition resolution submitted to the Council prior to December 1 are
exempted by the revised legislation from the right of first offer
requirement. The exemption presumably is designed to cover the Randall
School building, which the administration plans to sell to the Corcoran
Museum, and the Franklin School building, which is rumored to be close to
commercial disposition. The exemption evidently also is intended to apply
to the Nichols Avenue School building, disposition of which to Thurgood
Marshall PCS was being held up by the administration even though TMA had
taken possession of the building and begun renovations.

In addition to surplus property, the right of first offer also applies to
excess space in school buildings currently operated by DCPS. According to
the 21st Century School Fund, a D.C. non-profit, DCPS now controls nearly 6
million square feet of space it no longer needs to house its students (DCPS
unofficial enrollment has fallen below 60,000 students this school year).
Yet the BOE continues to hang on to all of its 150+ buildings, rarely
sharing space with charter schools and stalling for months on accepting a
staff-proposed policy on space sharing that took over a year to develop.

Another very important amendment preserved by Senator Landrieu gives
converting schools the right to lease their DCPS school buildings for a
renewable term of at least 25 years. Prior law was silent as to whether
converting schools could stay in their buildings. Another amendment that
would have made it easier to convert DCPS schools to charter schools,
however, was struck under pressure from the Board of Education. This
amendment would have reduced from two thirds to 51% the percentage of
teachers who must approve a conversion.

In her letter responding to the administration�s request that she repeal all
of the amendments, Senator Landrieu discussed Congress�s efforts over the
last several years to get the administration to take action on the charter
school facilities crisis by making more surplus buildings available to the
charter schools. According to the Senator, this history demonstrates that
"despite there being a clear and compelling need for facilities for use by
the rapidly expanding charter school movement in D.C. and an even clearer
legal requirement that they be given preference...when disposing of surplus
property," few buildings have been made available to the charter schools by
the administration. "[W]e are simply not on track to meet the needs for
infrastructure by emergent charter schools" she added.

Responding to the administration�s argument that its treatment of the public
charter schools should be a purely local matter, the Senator expressed
agreement that education is "primarily a local function." But, citing
Congress�s investment in District charter schools of $43 million over the
last three years, much of it to help the charter schools acquire and finance
facilities, the Senator promised a continuing role for the federal
government in District school reform. "We would not be fulfilling our
responsibility to the taxpayers if we were to continue to allocate federal
funds for [charter school facilities] purposes without also addressing the
obvious and well-documented barriers that may prevent these funds from being
well spent."

The administration promised in August to permit charter schools to bid on
five additional surplus buildings in October, but did not release the
request for bids because it claimed that the pending congressional
legislation required that the process be delayed. Now that the dispute over
the legislation has been resolved it is anticipated that the charter schools
will be able to bid on the five buildings in the reasonably near future.

PermaLink | 7:21 PM | |

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?