D.C. to Conceal Charter School Details As Comprehensive Facility Modernization Planning Begins

A frustrated D.C. Council in 2016 ordered a new analysis of school-by-school enrollment, growth plans and needed building upgrades. The dream — to end years of obscure renovation decisions by writing into law the data required, the priorities to rank needs, and plenty of public participation. Results were due in fall 2017 to help with the 2019 budget now being written.  A contractor begins public meetings this week to present plans for the long-stalled surveys and analysis, but a major mystery remains: will charter schools get a free pass on the transparency the Council believed essential to objectivity and credibility?

The law requires all public schools, DCPS and charter, to provide enrollment now and projected, allow engineers to evaluate facilities and give the public access to the data. Underscoring the seriousness of the work, the Council provided for fines for uncooperative charters (which are not under the D.C. executive branch but have their own oversight body, the Public Charter School Board, appointed by the mayor). 

But Jennifer Niles, then Deputy Mayor for Education (DME), told charters in a memo last July that if they did provide details, they would be kept out of public view.  Niles promised all school-level enrollment data and also facility evaluations for any non-DCPS building would go only to an outside consultant. The DME, charter board and the public could see only aggregate data.

The memo gave no reason for setting aside the requirements in the law. And when a nonprofit school planning organization, 21st Century School Fund, wrote the mayor with questions about the memo, the reply from Niles did not address them. Read more…