D.C.’s law has a cap on public charter schools that allows for ample growth, includes an independent charter board as the authorizer, and provides a fair amount of autonomy and accountability. However, it also provides inequitable funding to charter schools.
Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?
The law limits charter school growth to 10 new charter schools per authorizer each year. In addition, in any year where an authorizer does not approve 10 new petitions by April 1, another authorizer may grant additional charters before June 1, provided that the total number of new charters approved by all authorizers in any calendar year does not exceed 20.However, charters are approved for a local educational agency (LEA). Each LEA can operate multiple campuses if approved to do so by the authorizer. There is no restriction in the law on the number of campuses an LEA can operate and additional campuses opened by the same LEA do not count against the cap.
Are a variety of charter schools allowed?
The law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.
Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?
The law established two authorizers, the DC Board of Education (BOE) and the DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB). However, the BOE is now defunct. In 2007, the DC PCSB assumed oversight of all the charter schools formerly overseen by the BOE. The law also permits the Council of the District of Columbia to designate another entity as an authorizer, which has not occurred.
Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?
DC has only one active authorizer, the DC Public Charter School Board, whose authority is established in the charter school law.
The law requires the authorizer to submit an annual report to the Mayor, the DC Council, the DC Board of Education, the U.S. Secretary of Education, the appropriate congressional committees, and the Consensus Commission. It requires the report to include data on the performance and compliance of the authorizer’s charter schools, as well as describe authorizing activities and actions in the past year.
The law requires the authorizer to be evaluated periodically by the Comptroller General of the United States (through the Government Accountability Office) for quality procedures, oversight, and best practices.
The authorizer is also subject to the oversight of the DC City Council.
The ability of DC Public Charter School Board to continue authorizing can be removed by Congress (the entity that gave them that authority).
Is there adequate authorizer funding?
The law includes a small number of the model law’s provisions regarding adequate authorizer funding. The law entitles the authorizer to charge each charter school up to one percent (1%) of its annual school budget as an oversight fee.
Transparent Charter Application, Review, and Decisionmaking Processes
Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?
The law sets forth essential requirements concerning the content of all charter applications and includes specific requirements for conversion petitions.
The law requires a public hearing on all charter applications but not an in-person interview. However, DC PCSB’s application process requires a capacity interview of all applicants prior to the public hearing. The law includes application approval criteria.
The law requires that all charter approval or denial decisions be made in a public meeting and that authorizers state reasons for any charter denial in writing.
The law does not include additional application elements specific to educational service providers and replications. However, DC PCSB’s charter application requires performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, including documentation of academic achievement and (if applicable) school management success and explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
Are performance-based charter contracts required?
The law requires that certain parts of a petition to establish a charter school become that school’s charter if the petition is approved. Further, DC PCSB requires each charter school governing board to enter into a charter agreement.
The law requires that the charter granted include the goals and academic achievement expectations of the school. It also requires that the basis of renewal and revocation decisions be whether or not a school is meeting its goals and academic achievement expectations.
The law requires that charter terms must be granted for 15 years, with a high-stakes review every five years to determine whether a charter should be revoked for reasons stated in the law.
While the law does not require that the charter agreement define the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer, the law establishes the roles, powers, and responsibilities of both schools and authorizers and the charter agreement required by DC PCSB does define the roles, powers, and responsibilities of the school and the authorizer.
Comprehensive Charter Public School Monitoring and Data Collection Processes
Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?
The law requires each charter school to submit to the authorizer an annual report on its financial, administrative, and programmatic operations and make the report available to the public upon request. It requires the annual report to include a report on the school’s charter fulfillment and student performance on any district-wide assessments and data on enrollment, attendance, parent involvement, and graduation and college admission (if applicable). The law also requires the report to include a financial statement audited by an independent certified public accountant or accounting firm from a list approved by a committee representing the authorizer and the DC Chief Financial Officer, in accordance with federal government auditing standards. The law requires charter schools to adhere to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.
The law explicitly gives the authorizer the authority and responsibility to oversee and monitor charter school performance and compliance. The law does not require the authorizer to notify schools of perceived problems or provide opportunity to remedy such problems. In practice, however, the DC PCSB provides notification to their schools of perceived problems and gives them opportunities to remedy such problems.
In DC, charter contract terms are 15 years, but schools are reviewed every five years. At the five and ten year marks, the law provides that the DC PCSB may revoke the charter. In practice, the board has frequently required corrective action short of revocation. At the 15-year mark, the law provides that the DC PCSB shall revoke the charter of a school under certain conditions but the law also provides for a probationary alternative.
Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?
The law requires charter schools seeking renewal to file a renewal application 120 to 365 days before the expiration of the charter. The law states generally what charter school renewal applications must contain and mandates a renewal application timeframe. DC PCSB also issues renewal application guidance every year explaining the type of information schools can submit to support their record of performance and application for renewal.
The law sets forth general grounds for non-renewal and revocation, distinguishing between the two. The law directs the authorizer to approve a duly filed renewal application unless the authorizer determines that the school has met one of the stated criteria for non-renewal, in which case the authorizer shall not renew the charter.
The law requires renewed charter terms to be for 15 years, but subjects them to the requirement of a high-stakes review every five years.
The law entitles charter schools to an informal hearing, upon request, for any pending renewal or revocation decision. In the case of a proposed revocation, the law requires the authorizer to provide written notice to the charter school, including an opportunity for the school to request an informal hearing.
The law requires the authorizer to make all renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions in a public meeting and state in writing reasons for non-renewal or revocation. The law makes non-renewal and revocation decisions subject to judicial review.
In the event of a charter closure, the law requires the authorizer to develop, in consultation with a charter school’s governing board, a plan for the orderly disposition of school assets. The law also requires the authorizer to arrange for the transfer and storage of necessary student records.
Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?
While these requirements aren’t in law, DC PCSB’s charter application requires performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, including documentation of academic achievement and (if applicable) school management success and explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
The law requires that a charter school submit in its application a description of any major contracts planned with a value equal to or exceeding $10,000. In practice, as part of the application process, DC PCSB has collected draft agreements for these major contracts. Because ESPs are considered a part of a charter school’s governance structure, any proposed ESP – either at application or during the life of a charter – must be approved by DC PCSB. Also, as part of its governance oversight, DC PCSB requires that each school’s board consist of a majority of disinterested trustees, i.e. trustees not associated with any ESP.
The law also requires that under certain conditions such school management organizations must, if requested by the charter school, provide books, records, papers, and documents related to the services the organization provided to the school (with such information also available to the school’s authorizer). Such information must be provided if requested, and if the school management organization receives from the school an annual fee equal to or exceeds 20% of the school’s annual revenue, or if the amount received will exceed 25% of the organization’s annual revenue.
The Non-Profit Corporation statute provides requirements for conflicting of interest contracts. In addition, the charter law specifically address conflicts of interest related to school management organizations and the charter school board.
Fiscally and Legally Autonomous Schools with Independent Charter Public School Boards
Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?
The law explicitly provides for charter school fiscal and legal autonomy.
The law provides for charter school governing board independence. In addition to requiring each charter school to be established as a nonprofit corporation, the law specifies that charter schools are not part of the DC government, while it establishes the authorizer as part of the DC government.
Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?
The law requires charter schools to be open to any student in DC.According to the law, a public charter school may not limit enrollment on the basis of a student’s race, color, religion, national origin, language spoken, intellectual or athletic ability, measures of achievement or aptitude, or status as a student with special needs. Public charter schools must also comply with the anti-discrimination requirements of the DC Human Rights Act. Also, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (42 U.S.C. 6101 et seq.), title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.), title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.), § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (29 U.S.C. 794), part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (20 U.S.C. 1411 et seq.), and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12101 et seq.) all apply to a public charter school.
The law only requires enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students in a DCPS school that converts to a public charter school at the time the petition was granted, siblings of enrolled students, and students who reside within attendance boundaries.
The law allows a charter school to give preference to children of the school’s founders, so long as the enrollment of founders’ children is limited to 10% of total enrollment or 20 students, whichever is less; siblings of a student already selected for admission or already attending; and children of employees provided that the enrollment of children of employees is limited to 10% of total enrollment or 20 students.
If a charter school is oversubscribed, the law requires them to select its students by random lottery.
Automatic Exemptions from Many State and District Laws and Regulations
Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?
The law provides that charter schools are automatically exempt from DC statutes, rules, regulations, and policies governing public schools, except as provided in the charter school law or the school’s charter. In spite of this exemption, there are continuous attempts to apply new laws to charters.
The law provides that charter school teachers are not required to be certified.
Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?
The District of Columbia requires that non-charter public school teachers collectively bargain and that four topics must be covered in bargaining: wages, insurance or fringe benefits, hours, and terms and conditions of employment. Only two items are expressly excluded from collective bargaining: length of the teacher school year and evaluation process or instruments.D.C. law exempts charter schools from school district collective bargaining agreements.
Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, D.C. allowed mandatory agency fees. The Supreme Court decision renders that law unconstitutional. There has not been any reactive legislation enacted.
In D.C., the Public Employee Relations Board is required to regulate procedures for decertification of an exclusive representative upon the request of 30 percent of the employees or the D.C. government agency in question. Employers may certify an exclusive representative without a full election via an alternative method of majority support, such as a card check showing organization membership. Elections may be conducted by the board or by a mutually agreed-upon impartial body.
Multischool Charter Contracts and/or Multicharter Contract Boards Allowed
Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?
The law is silent regarding these arrangements. In practice, DC PCSB allows charter schools to operate multiple campuses and requires independent academic accountability but not independent financial accountability for each campus.
Extracurricular and Interscholastic Activities Eligibility and Access
Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?
The District of Columbia government provides charter schools eligibility to participate in the State Athletic Association.
Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?
The law requires a charter school to elect at the time of application whether it will be an independent LEA or part of the DC school district LEA for special education purposes. However, the Special Education Quality Improvement Amendment Act of 2014 amended the law by requiring each public charter school to be its own LEA for all purposes including special education by August 1, 2017.The District’s special education funding is allocated according to levels as articulated in the Uniform Per Pupil Funding Formula. The formula is updated every year and applies equally in the same manner and amount across public charter schools and DCPS. SPED levels 1-4 are clearly defined in terms of hours of required services per week. If a child is deemed eligible for Level 5 (private non-public placement), the cost is borne by the District. Both DCPS and the public charter schools use this formula, so the funding is provided in the same amount as to public charters as to other LEAs. Additionally, at-risk funding can be used to provide services to students with special needs. Again, this funding is provided according to the same formula for both public charter schools and DCPS.
While not established in law, the District has been making steady progress towards providing equitable services and supports to charter schools. Most charter schools now have district-provided nurses and there is equity in the deployment of School Resource Officers (police) and crossing guards. There is not yet equity in the provision of mental health staff.
Equitable Operational Funding and Equal Access to All State and Federal Categorical Funding
Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?
The law requires that similarly situated charter school students and district students be funded uniformly under the uniform per-pupil funding formula. This provision applies only to operating funding from the District’s general fund. However, the school district receives significant additional operating funds through other city and federal agencies that charter schools cannot access.
The law entitles charter schools to their share of entitlement funding pursuant to formula.
The law provides that charter school students are eligible for reduced fares on DC public transportation to the same extent as district students. It specifies that eligible special education students are entitled to state-funded special education transportation (In DC, only special education students receive transportation from the school district).
A national study of charter school funding (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands, 2014) found that DC charter schools were receiving $18,759 per pupil in public funds while the school district received $32,266 per pupil --- a difference of $13,507 or 41.9 percent. This comparison includes all sources of funding. The study attributes the funding disparity primarily to a) facilities funding inequity, and b) charters’ lack of access to substantial federal and city funding that benefits the school district. (See component #19 for information on capital funding)
Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?
The law provides a per-pupil facilities aid program. In Fiscal Year 2019, the city is providing $3,263 per student for this program, and per code this figure will increase to $3,335 for Fiscal Year 2020.District and federal law combined provide to grant programs for charter school facilities.
In 2013, the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results (SOAR) Act authorized competitive grants to charter schools to provide facility funding in order to increase the number of high-quality public charter school seats in the District of Columbia. This grant has not been offered since Fiscal Year 2017, but approximately $4 million is expected to be made available in Fiscal Year 2020.
Established in 2007, the Investing in Public Facilities Grant is a federally-funded initiative that provides grants for improving the quality of district-owned educational facilities occupied by charter schools. Grant funds may be used for new construction, renovations, system upgrades, predevelopment soft costs, and the addition of non-classroom space, such as resource rooms, labs, and athletic rooms. This program is currently not being offered.
The law requires the mayor and the D.C. government to give charter schools a right of first offer for the purchase, lease, transfer, or use of surplus public facilities or properties. The law also notes that charter schools are eligible for a rebate of any taxes paid as part of any leasing agreement. This law has been unevenly implemented.
The District of Columbia’s Direct Loan Fund for Public Charter School Improvement was established in 2003 to provide flexible loan capital for the construction, purchase, renovation, and maintenance of charter school facilities. Loans are capped at $2 million per school for up to five years, with interest rates and terms varying by project. These loans are frequently used in conjunction with debt in larger projects and may function as gap financing in transactions where little equity is available. To date, the fund has disbursed close to $64 million in direct loans to 27 charter schools, leveraging $459 million in additional financing. As of October 2018, the available Direct Loan Fund balance was $24 million.
The law allows charter schools to access low-interest, tax-exempt bonds through DC’s Revenue Bond Program.
The law provides the Public Charter School Credit Enhancement Fund, which provides credit enhancement for the purchase, construction, and renovation of facilities for charter schools. The program offers guarantees or collateral pledges of up to $1 million for up to five years. There is currently $13.5 million in this fund.
The Charter School Incubator Initiative (CSII), a public-private partnership between the District of Columbia and Building Hope, is a program that assists with securing and financing facilities for new charter schools serving communities and schools where at least 50% of students are eligible for the free and reduced-price lunch program. CSII is funded through a $4 million federal appropriation sub-grant to Building Hope and OSSE’s $5.1 million ED credit enhancement grant.
Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?
The law provides that employees transferring from a local district school to a charter school may elect to stay in the DC retirement system. Otherwise, charter employees do not have access to the system.
Full-Time Virtual Charter School Provisions (if such schools allowed by state)
Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?
D.C. law does not contain any of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools.