Coalition Urges Council to Expand Transparency of D.C. Charter Schools

Coalition Legal Committee co-chair Fritz Mulhauser testified Wednesday (14) in favor of legislation that would require more openness in charter schools' business dealings, but stressed the need for broader action so that D.C. taxpayers can know how efficiently and effectively the private nonprofit schools are spending over $600 million dollars a year.

"The board of the KIPP DC schools oversees an annual budget over $200 million," he said, noting that other states such as Massachusetts and Louisiana require charter board members to file financial disclosures that can help guard against biased decisions of the kind that caused two D.C. charters to be shut down last year. (On the millions one school paid to settle D.C. charges, see here.)

The Coalition statement recommended that charter boards follow the D.C. Open Meetings Act, that calls for decision-making in public, advance meeting agendas and posted minutes afterwards. Also that schools respond to request for records as D.C. agencies must do under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act. Other states have similar requirements for their charters.

Asked why not here, another witness, Mary Levy, who helped write the initial D.C. charter law, told the Council, "we just didn't think of it. We never imagined the charter system would grow as it has."  Charter schools now enroll almost half of D.C. students, about 39,000 total.

Other witnesses from the community supported transparency proposals beyond those in the Council bill, though school leaders warned about burdens on their small staffs.

The Coalition written statement can be downloaded using the link below.  Michael Alison Chandler wrote about the hearing for the Post.  The Coalition testimony and discussion with the Council members can be viewed beginning at 16:38 in the hearing video.