Local: Education

Proposal would let D.C. charter schools favor neighborhood kids

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye,Phil Mendelson,David Grosso

Students who live near a top-performing charter school would have greater odds at winning a seat in the school's lottery under a bill introduced in the D.C. Council Tuesday.

Present law requires D.C. public charter schools to open enrollment to all students in the District through a lottery system. The bill at-large Councilman David Grosso introduced Tuesday would change that by allowing new charter schools to give preference to students who live in the school's neighborhood.

The change would not affect the city's 57 existing charter schools, on 102 campuses, but would apply to any school opening after the new law is signed.

Top-tier public charter schools
School Ward Percentage of students within 1 mile Percentage of students in ward
Achievement Preparatory Academy 8 47 percent 82 percent
Capital City - Lower School 1 46 percent 42 percent
Center City - Brightwood 4 73 percent 82 percent
Center City - Petworth 4 76 percent 73 percent
Cesar Chavez - Chavez Prep 1 56 percent 50 percent
Community Academy - Butler 2 25 percent 20 percent
D.C. Prep - Edgewood Middle Campus 5 32 percent 49 percent
E.L. Haynes 4 42 percent 34 percent
Howard University Math and Science 1 20 percent 15 percent
Kipp D.C. - AIM 8 54 percent 82 percent
Kipp D.C. - College Preparatory 8 25 percent 50 percent
Kipp D.C. - KEY Academy 7 42 percent 64 percent
Kipp D.C. - WILL 6 38 percent 26 percent
Latin American Montessori Bilingual 4 25 percent 50 percent
Paul 4 41 percent 57 percent
SEED* 7 20 percent 37 percent
Thurgood Marshall Academy 8 27 percent 71 percent
Two Rivers - Elementary School 6 30 percent 45 percent
Washington Latin Middle School 4 11 percent 22 percent
Washington Latin High School 4 17 percent 35 percent
*Boarding school
Source: D.C. Public Charter School Board

Participating schools would be required to offer at least 20 percent of open seats or 40 seats, whichever is smaller, to students in the neighborhood. A school's neighborhood would be defined using the same geographic boundaries used to determine which DC Public Schools guarantee seats to students in an area.

Grosso said he proposed the measure at the urging of charter schools that would like to be able to develop a stronger relationship with the surrounding neighborhood.

"Parents are choosing to go to charter schools, as it is, all over the city," he said. "This just allows them to do it in their own neighborhood if they want to."

Grosso pointed to Kipp D.C., which has nine campuses spread across Wards 2, 7 and 8, as an example of a charter school that had expressed interest in giving preference to neighborhood students. Since Kipp is already established in the District, though, Kipp would not be able to take advantage of the measure as proposed.

The bill opposes recommendations made in December by a committee that was overseen by the Public Charter School Board and included Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson and Interim Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Leonard. A neighborhood preference is unnecessary since 35 percent of charter school students already go to a school within a mile of home and 49 percent go to a school within their ward, the committee explained.

Limiting charters' open-enrollment policy would likely hurt students in poorer neighborhoods, said Scott Pearson, charter board executive director.

Thousands of kids travel every day from Wards 7 and 8 to schools west of the Anacostia River, he explained. "A neighborhood preference in an affluent ward ... would shut out those kids from east of the river."

Several other cities allow charters to give preference to neighborhood students, with restrictions.

In New Orleans, for example, only charter schools that offer kindergarten through eighth grade are required to give neighborhood students priority, according to the D.C. committee report.

But these cities are exceptions to the rule, said Todd Ziebarth, senior vice president for state advocacy and support at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "The rule [is] that charters are typically open enrollment," he said.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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