Fourteen public school activists, including Victor Reinoso, the former Deputy Mayor for Education under Adrian Fenty, and two organizations, Mary Filardo’s 21st Century School Fund and the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators (S.H.A.P.P.E.), a group supporting neighborhood schools founded by Matthew Frumin, have filed an Amicus, or friend of the court, brief supporting D.C. Attorney General Irvin Nathan’s motion to dismiss the charter school inequity funding lawsuit filed by the D.C. Association of Public Chartered Schools, Washington Latin PCS and Eagle Academy PCS. The argument mirrors the contention by Mr. Nathan that the elected representatives of the District of Columbia can make their own decisions regarding managing public education, power they claim was delegated by Congress to the Mayor and the Council through the Home Rule Act of 1973. In a press release announcing the move Mr. Reinoso comments:
“I am a strong proponent of charter schools, but the idea that a federal judge could bar District residents from having a role through their elected representatives in managing how and at what level their schools are funded should deeply offend every District resident.”
What has these individuals and groups up in arms is the notion that “the lawsuit argues that the School Reform Act of 1995, which established charter schools in D.C., can only be changed by Congress. But the Amici Curiae agree with the Attorney General that the District clearly has authority to legislate in quintessentially local issues such as the way in which its children are educated.”
Especially interesting about Mr. Reinoso’s remark is his action pledge for an upcoming Aspen Action Forum conference that brings together the world’s leaders to not only reflect on the critical issues of the times but to actually do something to resolve them. His pledge is nothing less than “I will make it easier to replicate best practices in public education.” But what he fails to mention anywhere in the 17 page brief is the undisputed fact that currently charter schools in the nation’s capital receive, as the editors of the Washington Post have pointed out “$2,150 less per student than their traditional counterparts every year, resulting in a loss of $770 million since fiscal 2008.” The $770 million would go an exceedingly long way in promoting the replication of the Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework Tier 1 charters to serve the estimated 40,000 children, almost all of whom qualify for free or reduced lunch, that are currently being educated in low performing DCPS facilities.
Also strangely missing is a discussion of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula which the School Reform Act identifies as the only method codified in law through which charters and the regular schools can receive their taxpayer money to operate. I guess the bottom line of their reasoning is that we are perfectly fine with the situation that a parent who decides to send their offspring to a charter school will receive an inequitable amount of public support as long as we defend the ability of locally elected officials to do whatever they wish with the schools. Sad, especially considering that it has been shown by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools that students enrolled in charters, despite the illegal shortage of funding compared to DCPS, gain an extra 72 more days of instruction in reading and 101 days teaching in math each year compared to being at a regular school.
The executive director of FOCUS, the group that organized the lawsuit, summarizes the situation best through his comment, “The motion to dismiss, which the Amici support in their brief, asks the court to bless the government’s long-standing practice of discriminatory funding of public charter school students. These students, now 45% of all D.C. public school students, are overwhelmingly members of minority groups and economically disadvantaged. The government says it has the right to treat these students anyway it likes, without regard to fairness or the requirements of law. This is the real offense, not the filing of a last-resort lawsuit asking that the court protect these vulnerable students from being treated as second class citizens.”