DC Public Schools needs to work hard to keep the nearly 2,500 students who will leave their current schools when 13 campuses close in June, D.C. Council members told schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Wednesday.
Henderson's plan to close 15 underenrolled schools -- 13 in June and two a year later -- would allow DCPS to better concentrate resources on programs like art, music and language, Henderson said. Students in the closing schools would relocate to other DCPS schools nearby.
But at the hearing Wednesday, members of the council's newly formed Education Committee worried that the closings would drive more students into the District's rapidly growing public charter schools.
"Taking [2,500] students out of the system and hoping they will re-enroll -- it's anyone's guess whether we will be successful," said committee Chairman David Catania, D-at large.
Charter schools now enroll 41 percent of the city's 76,753 public school students. Since 2008, when the District closed 23 schools, the number of students in public charter schools has grown 60 percent.
If DCPS continues to lose students to charter and private schools, the school closings may continue, Catania warned. "They are, in fact, luring our children from traditional public schools."
Since schools are funded based on the number of students they enroll, students leaving schools in an individual ward means the dollars for those schools also are leaving. That was of particular concern to Councilwoman Yvette Alexander, who represents Ward 7, where four schools are slated to close because of low enrollment. But Alexander questioned why DCPS schools in her ward are underpopulated when charter schools nearby are popular.
There are 22 charter schools in Ward 7.
To some extent, Henderson said she can't help that there's competition. "If it were up to me, there would not be three high-performing charter middle schools placed around a traditional public middle school," she said.
Catania pointed to charters' relatively high test scores compared with neighboring DCPS options. If DCPS schools had higher levels of academic achievement, they would be more competitive.
"I want a traditional public school system where students are dying to get into our schools as opposed to leaving," he said.
The difference, said Henderson, is that when a student enters a charter school at a below-grade reading level, the school can require the student to get extra help during the summer. DCPS cannot do the same.
At the end of the day, though, parents are going to do what they can to ensure that their children get the best education, said Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry.
"I don't blame those parents," Barry said of parents who choose charters.