District of Columbia

lead image

1996
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
122
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2018-19
39,085
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2018-19
166
out of
240
Total Score

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.

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

For state charter schools, Connecticut law provides that the funding comes directly from a separate state appropriation, with no local contribution. Currently, the annual per-pupil amount is $11,525.

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?

Connecticut law provides that charter schools are eligible for additional categorical federal and state funds.

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?

For transportation, Connecticut law provides that the school district in which the charter school is located must provide transportation services for charter students who reside in that district unless the charter school makes other arrangements for such transportation. It also allows school districts to provide transportation for those residing outside the district and be reimbursed for the reasonable costs of such transportation.

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?

In a national study of charter school funding (University of Arkansas, Charter School Funding: Inequity Persists, 2014), Connecticut charter schools were receiving on average $11,322 per pupil in public funds, while traditional public schools would have received $18,527 for those students.  As a result, the state's charter schools were receiving $7,205 per pupil - or 38.8% - less than what the traditional public schools would have received for those students.  This figure includes all sources of funding, and analysis reveals significant inequities exist both for operational and capital funding (see component #19 for information on capital issues).

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
No
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?

Connecticut law requires the state commissioner of education to establish, within available bond authorizations, a grant program to assist state charter schools in financing school building projects, general improvements to school buildings, and repayment of debt incurred for school building projects. Preference must be given to applications that include matching funds from non-state sources. A charter school that "abandons, sells, leases, demolishes or otherwise redirects the use of a school building" within 10 years of receiving funding under this program must repay the state an amortized portion of the grant. Approximately $6.9 million is available for "grants-in-aid to assist charter schools with capital expenses.”

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 also provides that the state bond commission shall have the power, from time to time, to authorize the issuance of bonds of the state in one or more series and in principal amounts not exceeding in the aggregate $20 million to support charter school facilities. The funding available under this program was $3.8 million for 2018-19 and $3.4 million for 2019-20.

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?

Connecticut law allows a charter school to apply for low-interest loans from the Connecticut Health and Educational Facilities Authority.

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?

State law provides that charter school teachers hired prior to July 1, 2010 may participate in the state teacher retirement system, while it requires that those hired after July 1, 2010 must participate in the system.

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?

Connecticut law does not contain any of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools.

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.
No
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 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
No
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 non-residential facilities allocation. In Fiscal Year 2021, the per-pupil facilities allocated is $3,408 per student.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. The Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 allocations for these grants ($8 million in total) were included with another grant (one focused on academic quality) and provided as one formula grant to LEAs.
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 currently set at 1.00% per annum due to the COVID_19 pandemic. 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 $70 million in direct loans to 30 charter schools, leveraging $492 million in additional financing. As of December 2020, the available Direct Loan Fund balance was $28.3 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 five years. As of December 2020, there is currently $28.6 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.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
Yes
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
Yes
19B
A state grant program, such as one specific for charter school facilities or equal access to existing state facilities programs available to non-charter public schools.
No
19C
The inclusion of charter schools in school district mill levy requests regarding facilities.
Access to Public Space
Yes
19D
Access to public space, such as: * A requirement for districts to provide district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district. * 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
Some
19E
19E. Access to financing tools, such as: * State loan program for charter school facilities. ^ Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority. * Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms. * The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund. * The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding requests. * A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.

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.