Preserving Charter School Flexibility

FC2 Chief Operating Officer Kevin Clinton testified last week before the DC Council’s Committee on Education. He voiced his concern about the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019, which would increase regulatory requirements on charter schools. The full testimony is below.


Good morning, members of the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Education. My name is Kevin Clinton and I am the Chief Operating Officer of the Federal City Council, a nonprofit civic organization that works to make our city a better place.

I’m testifying before you today to express my concern about the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. DC charter schools do not need a regulatory overhaul. They already have a rigorous and meaningful results-based accountability system.

Let me begin by pointing out that the District’s public school system—including both DCPS and charters—is on the right track. Since 2008, enrollment is up 20 percent. Test scores have been heading up for four straight years. We know that these gains have more to do with real student improvement rather than underlying shifts in who is attending our public schools, according to the Urban Institute and EmpowerK12.

DC charter schools are part of this success, reflecting high-quality teaching and pedagogy—as well as high-quality management. The DC Public Charter School Board aggressively manages its school portfolio. The Board systematically closes the lowest performing schools (35 since 2012) and opens new ones that show promise (31 since 2012). It encourages the successful schools to grow. It is sensitive to students and parents; schools rise and fall based on the demand from students and their parents who have their best interests at heart.

The existing system, in other words, has a lot of accountability for quality already built into it. And the existing system is working.

We are talking today about the right balance between transparency and accountability. The District’s charter schools receive greater operational flexibility and autonomy in exchange for tougher accountability for student results. Charter schools are measured not by their inputs, but by their outcomes, including the academic performance of their students. Schools that don’t meet a high standard are closed.

Remember that charter schools are nonprofits, not government entities. Charters should have the same transparency requirements as any independent nonprofit that provides essential services, such as a community clinic or shelter. Current charter regulations are in line with other nonprofits.

If this bill’s advocates worry that the playing field is becoming unfair between DCPS and charter schools, our inclination should be to provide DCPS schools with more flexibility, not less to charter schools. School leaders should not be underestimated. Give them more autonomy and let great principals and teachers do what is right for their students.