Through the Growing Healthy Foods initiative, more students are learning the benefits of a lifestyle focused on eating healthy foods. /Courtesy of
Courtesy of

This week is National Charter Schools Week — someone should remind the District of Columbia of charter schools’ contribution to public education in the nation’s capital. Recently, District Mayor Muriel Bowser proposed only a 1.5 percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, which finances school operation costs for students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools, the traditional public school system, and the District’s public charter schools.

Charters, which are free to determine their own educational program and school culture while being held accountable for student performance by their authorizer, D.C.’s Public Charter School Board, educate 46 percent of all D.C. public school children. The mayor’s proposed 1.5 percent increase is an odd statement of priorities, given that the city budget is set to expand by 4.3 percent; the expected rate of inflation, currently running at 2.7 percent, also is higher, so in real terms this is a cut.

Part of what is driving the city’s record revenues is the influx of new residents and retention of existing ones, who in former years and decades would shun the District partly because of its poor public school offering. Some 1,000 additional net residents arrive each month, according to the U.S. Census, as more families move to D.C. and decide to raise their children here. A key part of their decisions are the improvements that D.C. public charter schools and the reform of DCPS bring.

Driven by demand for charter schools, overall enrollment in District public schools is up for the eighth consecutive year after decades of decline. While charters enroll over 40,000 students, there are more than 10,000 individual names of students on waitlists who want to attend them, but cannot currently be accommodated — one-fifth of the total who wish to do so. Charters’ autonomy has enabled increasingly enriched curricula and groundbreaking teaching techniques to be offered and tested.

Once a byword for failure, with around half of public high school students dropping out before graduating as recently as the mid-1990s, today the on-time (within four years) high school graduation rate is 69 percent for DCPS, and 73 percent for charters. And student performance on the new more rigorous standardized tests for college and career-readiness continue to rise, as they did for eight straight years on the citywide assessment they replaced, with charters ahead of the curve.

So why is public education less favored in this budget? It isn’t need: Nearly half of District public school students are defined as “at risk.” Nearly three-quarters live in economically disadvantaged homes — almost 80 percent in D.C.’s charters. The District has been vigorously pursuing a large influx of young families and touting improving schools for their children, to entice them to stay beyond the early childhood years.

Yet, it is the very increase in enrollments that is being cited as the reason why the public schools cannot be funded adequately — a bitter irony. Yes, we welcome new students; but what about the students who are here, and who have been here, who are stranded in an achievement gap defined by race, class, language, and disability, that is the largest in the nation? How will their educational needs be met by a funding level that fails to meet any test of adequacy?

Among charter students, 76 percent are African-American and 16 percent Latino — a higher share of minority students than D.C.’s traditional public school system — and they lead the way with higher high-school graduate rates, an essential precondition for acceptance to college. You see this particularly in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8, our most underserved communities, where pre-reform public education had been the most neglected, especially at the high school level.

A key problem in District funding is the bad habit of the District government over many years of funding DCPS but not D.C.’s charters, outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. This is designed to ensure that each District public school student is funded equally, at the same grade and level of special education as their peers. This is contrary to D.C. law and the subject of a lawsuit in which my organization is a plaintiff.

An independent study found that the total amount of school operation funds paid to DCPS, but not charters, ranged from $127 million to $72 million annually. The government’s proposed after-inflation cut in the UPSFF takes place in this context. Surely, at a time of record revenues, and given the significant gains achieved by the least advantaged with education reform, it is time to fund D.C.’s students adequately and equally.

Edelin is executive director of the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools (

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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