The costs and burdens of allowing public access to charter school records in the District of Columbia seemed exaggerated in a Washington Post "Local Opinion" piece by Lis Kidder earlier this month. Her projections were far-fetched (and her sources unexplained). I wrote the letter below from my own experience.
To the Editors:
In my 20 years as an attorney in D.C. nonprofits making hundreds of FOIA requests I have never seen facts matching those in the account by Lis Kidder (“How to make charter schools hire lawyers instead of teachers,” May 12, 2019).
Her account lacks sources. It appears her position helping her law firm's corporate FOIA clients has given her a misleading base of experience. Business clients do indeed fight hard over requests they make to government, or even requests about themselves made by others.
But I have never seen D.C. agencies need lawyers to interpret individual and community requests, craft searches, or do redactions. Trained staff follow well-established protocols. Ms. Kidder’s huge estimates of numbers of documents likely, and thus lawyer time, costs and fees, are from some other universe than the one I know well.
And fast, fair and free appeals make lawsuits rare.
Real experience shows a modest demand for any type of education records. The charter board fielded only 74 requests last year, managing most on time and with an average cost of $306. No staff will be lost or art or music class would be cut at any school at this rate (as Kidder predicts). DCPS handled only 184.
Improved proactive data release, as the charter board recently voted under public pressure, will further reduce requests.
Council member Charles Allen’s bill provides for an early study of schools’ experience with the requirement, common for charters nationwide, that could show which of us is right.