The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis reports that yesterday Mayor Vincent Gray gave a two hour farewell speech regarding his time in office. As far as his record in regard to the D.C. charter school movement he was a transitional leader.
First, he appointed Kaya Henderson Chancellor and Abigail Smith Deputy Mayor for Education. Ms. Henderson has been a tough competitor regarding attracting students to her school system and she has, up to a point, demonstrated cooperation regarding coexisting with charters that now educate 45 percent of all public school students. It was great to see a Deputy Mayor for Education come from E.L Haynes Public Charter School, as a board member and as a parent. Ms. Smith made a major contribution to our cause by convincing the Mayor and Chancellor to turn some shuttered former DCPS facilities over to charters, but her biggest achievement was completion of the Adequacy Study that for the first time documented in print the illegal funding of the traditional schools outside of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. She also created the common lottery that made it easier for parents to apply to charter schools and DCPS at one time instead of having to fill out separate applications.
However, the pace of providing charters empty buildings was not nearly fast enough and that decision proved detrimental to two high performing charter management organizations that came to town for the first time. Harmony PCS and Rocketship PCS were treated as unwelcome strangers as they were thrown to the wind to try and find places to operate. The fact that the Chancellor accused Harmony of cannibalism regarding the school’s last minute desperate decision to locate across the street from a DCPS site after the charter tried to coordinate its placement with the city set the relationship between the two sectors back years.
It was unfortunate that the recommendations of the Adequacy Study did not make it into the Mayor’s budget. This resulted in FOCUS coordinating a lawsuit against the city over inequities in spending regarding DCPS compared to charters. The move came as a frustrated last resort after multiple efforts to work with the Administration to bring fairness to a situation that sees the regular schools receiving about $100 million a year more than charters. The Mayor did, however, increase the per pupil facility allotment that had not been raised in years. He also for the first time guaranteed local funding for these dollars which used to be dependent upon Federal three sector money to reach the $3,000 level (now $3,072) for each enrolled student.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to charters was giving them a seat at the table. In discussing education policy he included Scott Pearson, the executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, and the PCSB chairman. He also attended numerous events celebrating the progress of our schools regarding Performance Management Framework results and the opening of new permanent facilities. He certainly gave the distinct impression, and this was regrettably groundbreaking for one of our Mayors, that he did not care whether a child attended a charter or a regular school as long as he or she was receiving a quality education. For that, Mr. Gray should be sincerely thanked.