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Josephine C. Baker, Chairperson
District of Columbia Public Charter School Board
Testimony to the House Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on the District of Columbia
June 24, 1998




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Good morning Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee and distinguished colleagues. I am Josephine Baker, Chairperson of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board. I am delighted to have been asked to testify on behalf of public charter schools this morning.

During my testimony today, I will cover four topics:

  1. the Fiscal Year 1999 budget request for public charter schools in the District of Columbia;
  2. the Fiscal Year 1999 budget request for the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board's operations;
  3. recommendations for possible changes in the District of Columbia School Reform Act; and
  4. a summary of what the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board has accomplished over the past year, particularly in the area of accountability.


The fiscal year 1999 District of Columbia budget request of $12,235,000 for public charter schools falls far short of what is needed to support the numbers of students who will be enrolled in public charter schools when public schools open in the fall of 1998. At a base rate of $5,500 per student (with no allowances made for grade levels or students with special needs requiring higher funding levels), the amount requested will support only 2, 225 students.

As of March of this year, the DC Public Charter School Board awarded ten charters. Eight of these newly chartered public schools will open in September 1998. We anticipate that 2,275 students will attend these eight schools. If you add this number to the number of students who will be enrolled in the eleven schools chartered by the DC Board of Education that plan to open in September 1998, the problem becomes frighteningly clear.

All of us have promised alternatives to the families and students in Washington and we have raised hopes and expectations among communities. We look to the Congress to ensure that promises are kept and that public charter schools are fully funded.


The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board is requesting an increase of $80,000 in its appropriated funds for fiscal year 1999, from $400,000 to $480,000. The additional funds are needed to cover staff costs as we enter our first year with operating schools and anticipate awarding up to ten new charters in the fall of this year.

The work of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board is labor intensive and focuses on four key areas: a rigorous application review and selection process, (2) accountability planning and implementation that aims toward capacity building among the schools, (3) monitoring the schools we chartered this year and providing technical assistance where it is needed; and (4) community outreach to increase understanding of public charter schools and the role they play in improving public education. The Board is in the final stage of selecting an Executive Director whom we expect to join us in August and we hope to have at least two more staff in place by this fall.


We have reamed much during the past fifteen months about the District of Columbia School Reform Act and how to work within the framework it provides. However, there are two provisions of that law that, if changed, would better support efforts to charter schools that will be successful.

  1. The law requires that public charter schools admit students using a random selection process when more students apply than there are spaces available. Recently, the Board was approached by one of the newly chartered schools because twins had applied and since the school had more applicants than spaces, a lottery was being held. The question was, “what can we do, if as a result of the lottery, one twin is admitted and the other isn’t” What about siblings? The way the law is written, it makes it too difficult for parents who have to worry about getting their children to and from school. As the law is written, parents could face the difficulty of transporting their children to different schools or the unpleasant option of not enrolling in the public charter school the child whose name was drawn in the lottery.
    The law should be changed to make it more family friendly. The random selection provision for new public charter schools should give preference to siblings just as that preference is given for existing public or private schools that convert to public charter school status.
  2. The authorization of the DC School Reform Act should be extended beyond the current April 2001 expiration date. Under the law now, charter schools are granted fifteen-year charters with a provision that the Authority granting the charter review the charter at least once every five years to determine if the charter should be revoked. Stability and consistency in governance and oversight are critical to the success of any new venture, especially one that makes the kind of break from tradition that public charter schools do. It is imperative that the structure and direction provided by the DC School Reform Act remain in place for enough time (10 years) to permit real change to occur and take hold.


It’s difficult for members of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board to believe that the Board has existed for fewer than sixteen months. We’ve worked hard and we've accomplished much in that period of time.

As a Board, we have been consistent in our determination to ensure that attention to accountability is evident in the operations of the schools we charter and in our own work. The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board operates under two imperatives that influence every aspect of its work. First, the Board seeks to help improve public education for children, youth, and adults in the District of Columbia by chartering public schools that succeed. Second, the Board works tirelessly to help the schools it charters meet the highest standards of accountability.

Accordingly, we have focused our resources over the past fifteen months on building and strengthening what we believe to be the four pillars of charter school quality and accountability.

First, the board created and managed a carefully designed and rigorous application review and decision process to be sure that the applicants approved for a charter offer an exceptionally strong educational program and have a high probability of success. This review process uses technical reviewers with expertise and experience in important areas such as curriculum, business and financial management, school governance and operations, and parent and community involvement. These reviewers read and rate applications and conduct face-to-face interviews of each applicant. Their reports are a valuable component of the Board's decision-making process. The ten new public charter schools approved this year from a field of 26 applicants are all extremely promising and offer new opportunities for students in the nation’s capital.

Second, the board is developing comprehensive and legally sound charter agreements that are individually tailored to each school's structure, mission, goals, and educational program.

Third, the Board is working in partnership with our 10 new charter schools, providing them with guidance and technical help in the development and implementation of school-based based accountability procedures that will enable them to —

  1. set challenging but achievable goals;
  2. track their progress toward their goals;
  3. make program adjustments when needed; and
  4. report to parents, the community, and the Board on their performance and progress.

The Board has been told that this front-end approach to building school-based accountability has not been done before and that we are creating a model for charter schools across the country.

Fourth, the Board is completing its own procedures for monitoring each school's progress in meeting its goals and academic achievement expectations, fiscal management, and compliance with applicable law and the terms of its charter.

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, I thank you again for the opportunity to speak to you today. I will be happy to provide more information about the schools the Board has chartered and our partnerships with the schools to ensure success and accountability.

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The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board
Ensuring the Accountability of Public Charter Schools in the District of Columbia

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board operates under the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995. Section 2211 of the Act requires that the chartering authority, “shall monitor the operations of each public charter school to which it has granted a charter; shall ensure that each such school complies with applicable laws and the provisions of the charter; and shall monitor the progress of each such school in meeting student academic achievement expectations specified in the charter.”

The Board has set as its highest priority the establishment of well-conceived processes and procedures for ensuring the public accountability of the schools it charters. Toward this end, every school chartered by the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board will —

  1. Be guided by thorough, well-designed educational and business plans;
  2. Operate under a firm, but fair charter that clearly spells out the legal rights and obligations of the school;
  3. Prepare and manage its own charter school accountability plan that sets goals for student achievement and school operations and measures how well those goals are being met, and
  4. Be carefully monitored by the Board for compliance with the law and with its charter, for financial stability and fiscal responsibility, and for the academic achievement of its students.

Every school will be guided by thorough, well-designed plans.

Now in its second competitive cycle, the Board has developed a rigorous application and review process that places an emphasis on sound academic and business plans, strong leadership from committed boards of trustees, and solid financial planning. Every application approved by the Board for a charter has been thoroughly reviewed and its sponsors interviewed by a panel of several highly qualified reviewers, each with a different area of special competence. In addition, applicants whose plans are generally strong, but who do not yet meet the standards for charter approval are given extensive feedback and invited to revise and resubmit their applications for a second stage review. This challenging, yet developmental, process has resulted in a first cohort of schools with special promise for students in the District of Columbia.

Every school will operate under a firm, but fair charter.

The Board believes that a strong charter is an essential element for holding schools accountable for their performance. Accordingly, the Board has studied charter agreements from other states, sought sound legal advice, and invited comment from the schools and others on successive drafts of the charter agreement it will soon enter into with ten new public charter schools. The Board believes that the resulting charter provides both the flexibility the schools need to make effective use of their resources and the leverage the Public Charter School Board needs to hold schools accountable for their outcomes.

Every school will prepare and manage its own charter school accountability plan.

To be accountable, public charter schools need to have procedures in place that enable them to 1 ) set challenging but achievable goals; 2) measure and track their progress toward their goals; 3) make program adjustments when needed; and 4) report to parents, the community, and the chartering authority on their performance and progress. These procedures are essential components of a charter school accountability plan that is specific to each school.

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board and the schools it has approved for charters are now in the midst of a five-month process of working together to prepare a high quality accountability plan specific to each charter school. Accountability plans will be completed before school begins in September, and each will contain —

  • A statement of challenging but attainable goals;
  • A statement of student academic content and performance standards;
  • A set of performance indicators that specify what will be measured;
  • Annual and long-term performance targets (benchmarks);
  • Measurement tools capable of supplying the information needed to judge performance;
  • Strategies for using accountability information to support program improvement; and
  • Procedures for reporting progress and for gauging customer satisfaction.

To assist the public charter schools that are participating in this accountability planning effort. the DC Public Charter School Board has made expert help available to the schools in the form of workshops and direct technical assistance that they can use to strengthen their accountability plans. Similar assistance will be available during the coming year as the schools solve the difficult problems that accompany the implementation of their accountability plans.

Information from the charter school accountability plans will be available to charter school trustees, administrators, and teachers for their use in improving the educational program and the operations of the school. Accountability information will be available to parents and the public to judge how well the school is meeting the needs of students. And accountability information will be used by the Public Charter School Board as it makes judgments about the school's stewardship of public funds and performance under its charter.

Every school will be carefully monitored by the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board.

At the same time charter schools are developing their accountability plans, the Board is developing its plan for monitoring the performance of the schools. The Board’s monitoring plan will set out the reporting requirements of charter schools, including guidelines for a legislated annual report, semi-annual student enrollment census reports, periodic financial reports, an annual audit, and other reports required by the charter. The monitoring plan will also contain guidelines for annual, five-year, and special purpose reviews of compliance, performance, and progress. In addition, the monitoring plan will contain information about the procedures the Board will use to make decisions about the status of schools based on their performance. This will include guidelines for taking any corrective actions that may be needed to ensure accountability. It will also include guidelines for making and implementing Board decisions about charter renewal or revocation.

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