|front page - search - community|
Feds to fund D.C. charters
Congress OKs 5-year pilot to build up to 25 new schools
(Published February 9, 2004)
Mayor Anthony A. Williams is embracing a multimillion-dollar program conceived by a Louisiana senator that aims to build three to five new federally funded charter schools in the District during each of the next five years.
The plan, which the mayor touted in his annual State of the District address on Feb. 5, has already been approved by Congress as part of the District’s fiscal 2004 budget appropriation.
An aide to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said $5 million of the $13 million provided for public charter schools in the controversial school vouchers provision was earmarked by Landrieu to begin the construction program this year.
In his speech, the mayor said the program – called "City Build" – "will bring five new charter schools to five emerging neighborhoods this year." A spokesman for the mayor said the mayor’s education aides were unavailable to provide further details of the plan at press time due to hearings on the D.C. Public Schools budget that were being held during the two days that followed the mayor’s speech.
Williams also proposed during his Feb. 5 speech that the D.C. Board of Education be relegated to advisory status and that a new "chancellor" be created as a cabinet-level position in his administration to become chief executive officer of D.C. Public Schools.
Mayoral spokesman Tony Bullock said the City Build program originated with Landrieu and other members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, rather than being a local initiative.
"Senator Landrieu likes the idea of charter schools and she basically just put the money in," Bullock said. "This is something she initiated on her own and we said, ‘Fabulous – we’ll take it.’"
Brian Geiger, an aide to Landrieu, said the senator "bounced it off [D.C. City Council education committee chairman] Kevin Chavous and a lot of folks in the community" before she made the proposal.
Chavous did not respond to a call for comment.
Geiger said the idea is to "place the schools in areas where there are currently no neighborhood school options." He called it a "pilot program…intended to be ongoing for five years." Geiger said he was unable to provide any written details of the program.
"The legislation charges the mayor with developing a plan for using the money," Geiger said.
Darlene Allen, president of the D.C. Congress of Parents and Teachers Associations (DCPTA), expressed concern that her organization first learned of the federally funded building program for charter schools in the mayor’s speech. DCPTA is the largest organization representing parents of about 65,000 children enrolled in D.C. public schools. She said the national PTA lobbyists also were surprised to learn of the program in the mayor’s speech.
"I don’t understand why it needs to be charter schools," Allen said, noting that the D.C. Public Schools’ multiyear construction program has been delayed due to inadequate funding.
No similar federal assistance has been earmarked to help the public school system complete its program to modernize or replace all of the District’s more than 140 aging structures. The modernization program was begun after an extensive community planning process that involved hundreds of parents and other residents.
The federal government also is not funding the construction of a new high-technology high school at the former McKinley high school campus in Northeast Washington. Aides to Mayor Williams acknowledged last year that the mayor had abandoned his promise to raise private construction funding for the school, which he proposed when first elected in 1998, after high-tech companies fell on hard economic times. The school’s original completion date has been delayed due to funding problems.
"Basically, [the mayor] has abandoned the public school system and the students who are in them," Allen charged. "To me, this whole thing has to be because someone wants to do away with the public school system as we know it. It shows a lack of concern for our public schools, and that is a concern."
Copyright 2004, The Common Denominator