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Momentum Builds for Charter School Transparency With New Voices, New Facts; D.C. Open Government Coalition Adds Statement To The Chorus

Fritz Mulhauser | February 1, 2019 | Last modified: February 9, 2019

UPDATE 2/5/19: Perry Stein wrote for the Post on the charter transparency topic Monday evening (4), reviewing the Charter Board proposal and hearing a week ago but adding some new voices. She reports no negative comments and even the new deputy mayor weighed in positively. She writes: “Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn said the administration of Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) is encouraged by the charter board’s proposal but said more must be done. ‘Transparency is vital to our public school system and it is critical to ensuring the needs of our students are met,’ Kihn said.” The Washington City Paper’s morning summary, “District Line Daily,” noted Tuesday (5) that “City Paper writer Rachel Cohen has been reporting on this issue for a year, but it’s OK, Post. Welcome to the party.”

In just the last few days, an amazing cascade of events suggests the sunshine of open government may be coming to the District of Columbia’s 123 charter schools, a world with some areas of serious darkness:

  • More than a dozen witnesses testified Monday (28) to the Public Charter School Board that writes the rules for all charter schools. They came to oppose a proposed transparency policy that they unanimously found misnamed (“a shallow, meaningless nod” said one). Many teachers explained the many barriers they face finding basic facts about their schools’ finances and their own work rules. Many were from the Cesar Chavez charter school where they reported the recent decision to close several campuses came as a shock apparently following deliberations without staff and behind closed doors. As if with one voice, witnesses asked for open meetings and open records policies in line with D.C. law. (Written statements are here.)
  • Hundreds have this week signed a new petition from the teacher group EmpowerEd asking both the D.C. Council and charter board for the same two changes.
  • D.C. Council Member Charles Allen tweeted Wednesday (30) that “FOIA should apply to all our public education dollars. They’re your tax dollars & you should know how they’re being spent. We need to improve budget transparency for oversight, outcomes, students, teachers, & more.” This dramatic announcement comes just a few days after Mr. Allen sent back mayoral nominees for the board overseeing open government, asking in his January 16 letter for at least one new nominee qualified in the field and vetted by community experts and advocates that he noted had not been consulted on the first picks. The Council required in a new law last fall that at least one member of the oversight Board of Ethics and Government Accountability have this expertise. (Letter and analysis here.)
  • And still more facts suggest the need for charter transparency that Allen alluded to. Washington City Paper’s Rachel Cohen wrote this week (30) with new details of sky-high salaries paid to some charter school executives (eight over $200K), while details of reportedly low teachers’ salaries are obscure.

At the Charter Board hearing, the D.C. Open Government Coalition submitted a statement for the record and board member Fritz Mulhauser (this writer) testified (available at 32:37 of the archived video). The Coalition has advocated for charter transparency for years (see earlier post about 2015 Council testimony). The Coalition plans to feature the topic at its March public summit during Sunshine Week and looks forward to joining this new movement in renewed advocacy for real transparency about schools serving about half D.C. of students and supported (this year) with almost $900 million in local tax dollars.