NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

D.C. Charter Schools Fight Second-Class Status

August 27, 2012

In Washington, D.C., charter schools are increasingly becoming an attractive option for parents because of higher average test scores and better teaching practices. Enrollment in charter schools will surpass the traditional public school population before the end of the decade, says the Washington Post.

Most statistics show that charter schools perform better than their public school counterparts.

  • Of Washington's 76,753 students, 31,562 (or 41 percent) are enrolled in charter schools.
  • Charter schools posted higher scores on the District's Comprehensive Assessment System.
  • Furthermore, the four-year high school graduation rate is 80 percent for charter schools compared to 60 percent for the District's public school system.

Charter schools are funded by public money, but run privately. Despite the increasing popularity of charter public schools, Washington, D.C., officials continue to pour money and attention into the failing public school system.

  • The district is spending $5,986 per student in public schools but only $3,000 per student in charter schools.
  • Traditional city schools are funded on projected enrollment for the coming year, which was overestimated last year. This meant an extra $18 million that public schools did not have to pay back.
  • Charter schools, by contrast, are financed in quarterly installments, based on actual headcount and not projections, which causes funding to fluctuate.

The impact of funding levels is especially prominent in the physical shape of schools. For example:

  • Two Rivers charter school has no cafeteria, library, auditorium or gymnasium.
  • However, Walker-Jones, a traditional public school, received a new, $42 million state-of-the-art building.
  • There is an average of 140 to 200 square feet per student in traditional public schools.
  • In comparison, the average in charter schools is 100 square feet per student.

Politically speaking, support for charter schools has been hard to come by. Politicians continue to cling to the notion that charter schools are experimental and thus not deserving of more money. Moreover, those on the Board of Education are unwilling to admit that charter schools are a better model for educating children and thus don't want to throw their support behind privately-operated schools.

Source: Bill Turque, "D.C. Charter Schools Fight Second-Class Status," Washington Post, August 21, 2012.


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