District of Columbia

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District of Columbia

1996
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
119
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
42,400
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
166
out of
240
Total Score

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D.C.’s law has a cap on charter public 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.

The biggest area for potential improvement is ensuring equitable operational funding for charter schools.

Component Scores

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
Yes
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

The law allows new start-ups and public school conversions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
Yes
2B
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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

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).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
N/A
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
Yes
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Yes
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Yes
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
Yes
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
No
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
No
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
No
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
Yes
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
No
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
No
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
Some
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
Yes
6F
Application approval criteria.
Yes
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Yes
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
Yes
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Yes
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Yes
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
No
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
Yes
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
Yes
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
Yes
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
Yes
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
No
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Yes
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Yes
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Yes
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
N/A
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
No
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
No
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
Some
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
Yes
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
No
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
No
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Yes
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
Yes
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
Yes
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
Yes
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

The law exempts charter schools from district collective bargaining agreements.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
N/A
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
No
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
No
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
Yes
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
Yes
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
No
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

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)

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
Some
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
No
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

The law provides a per-pupil facilities aid program. In Fiscal Year 2016, the city is providing $3,177 per student for this program.Congress provides funding through the SOAR Act, which supports the City Build Charter School Initiative, a community revitalization effort with a particular emphasis on strengthening public charter schools. Most of the grants from this program have been allocated for facilities and expansion projects.

The law allows charter schools to access 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/or renovation of facilities for charter schools. The program offers guarantees or collateral pledges of up to $3 million for two to five years.

The law provides the Direct Loan Fund for Charter School Improvement, which provides flexible loan capital for the construction, purchase, renovation, and maintenance of charter school facilities. Loans are capped at $2 million per school. In FY 2009, $4.5 million in federal appropriations was earmarked for this initiative.

The law requires the mayor and the DC 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
Some
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
Yes
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
Some
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
Yes
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
Yes
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
No
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
No
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
Yes
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
Some
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
No
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
No
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
No
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
No
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
No
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.