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Report: Charters should accommodate students of closing DCPS schools

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A task force of city and school leaders is recommending that District charter schools reserve seats next year for students who attend neighboring DC Public Schools campuses that have been recommended for closure.

The task force, which includes DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, DC Public Charter School Board Chairman Brian Jones and Washington Teachers' Union President Nathan Saunders, among others, said in a 46-page report that they believe this would "ease the transition for students, families and communities impacted by these closures."

Henderson proposed in November closing 20 DCPS campuses, mostly neighborhood schools that would shutter by the time the next school year began in 2013. These schools are significantly underenrolled and generally underperforming, and Henderson said closing the schools would allow her to pool resources and provide better academic and extracurricular programs for children. The school system has declined to say how much money the closings, which are expected to be finalized next month, would save.

Before the long-anticipated closures were announced, the D.C. Council convened a task force to explore the possibility of requiring charter schools to give preference to students who live in the same neighborhood or ward of the school. Admission to D.C. charter schools is determined through a citywide lottery, with preference given only to the children of the school's founders and the siblings of current students.

The task force, which also includes the deputy mayor for education and the chief of staff of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, shot down such a systemic change. Many charter schools already enroll the majority of their students from the surrounding neighborhoods, and such a preference could end up hurting students in the low-income areas of Ward 7 and Ward 8, who most frequently enroll in charters outside of their neighborhoods, the group's report said.

Charter schools should open up slots to students displaced by DCPS closures for at least a short window of time, the task force recommended. Students who attended or were zoned for closing DCPS schools would have priority enrollment at nearby charters before the charters accepted students from the lottery.

The decisions would be school-by-school and voluntary, but some charter leaders say they're ready to sign up. Susan Schaeffler, the CEO of KIPP DC, said the KIPP campus on Benning Road Southeast would be happy to accommodate students from nearby Davis Elementary, which has been targeted for closure.

"We really want to open up seats to kids who can walk to the campuses," Schaeffler said. "We try to locate our schools the best we can in the neighborhoods that are underresourced, and I understand every charter school is different, but it works well for us."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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