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After Tsunami of Public Comment, D.C. Charter Board Revises School Public Information Requirements: But Is It Enough?

Fritz Mulhauser | February 21, 2019

The Public Charter School Board (PCSB), the policy board that governs all 120+ D.C. charter schools (through 60-some local education agencies, each of which also has its own board), issued “version 2” of new rules Friday (8) for information that must be posted on each school’s website.

A previous draft issued in December 2018 drew critical comments from teachers and the general public testifying in a public hearing January 28.  That plan did not expand the limited available information, only shifted it from a central website to schools’ own websites.

The D.C. Open Government Coalition testified, joining the calls for application of general D.C. laws, the Open Meetings Act (OMA) and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that assure general access—noting the anomaly that these laws do not apply to charter schools here, unlike most other states.  (See earlier blog post here recounting the hearing and with links to video, written statements and later commentaries.)

Pressure built in the two weeks since then, with a petition by the EmpowerEd teacher group gaining over 400 names and public comments from D.C. Council Member Charles Allen, the D.C. deputy mayor for education and a national charter expert – all on the theme “more needs to be done.” 

The board acknowledged the advocacy, noting it acted to expand the proposal “based on the high volume of public comment.”  Its new proposal is open for public comment until a second public hearing February 25 (place and time to be announced). See new text here with additions and changes in red.

Among the additional items the proposed policy will require charter schools beginning next year to post are:

  • board information (policy on board meeting accessibility, which meetings are open, meeting minutes, names of all members and contact info for chair and vice chair); and
  • financial information (school budgets, federal 990 tax returns, current salaries of the five most highly-compensated individuals in the organization, if over $100,000).

In addition, the charter board proposes to maintain on its website a “transparency hub” that will centralize additional information for each school such as each school’s charter and financial audits.

Even so, the latest proposal does not require records to be available on request as public agencies generally must provide under D.C. FOIA. Nor does it require open meetings, only requiring each school to “develop a policy pertaining to board meeting accessibility” (and the board will develop suggestions of “best practice”).  Thus advocates will likely press for further development of charter school transparency policy. 

An experienced charter teacher (speaking anonymously for fear of retaliation by the employer) said Monday night, “the PCSB is attempting to ward off what is becoming increasingly likely – Council action to subject charter schools to the OMA and FOIA, closing a loophole that’s been in place for over 20 years.  But [the version 2 proposal] is too little, too late.  The community is demanding that its public schools be truly public.”