Charter Schools

I believe in a strong mix of public charter and traditional public school options for families. I think that the introduction of charter schools in DC over the last decade has helped grow the numbers of families who have chosen to enroll their children in public schools in the District.

Last week was #charterschoolsweek, and while there were many wonderful pieces of news about excellent charter schools in DC, there were also several stories of less successful charters.

I'm proud to have spent my education career working with charter schools in many ways. I've been a charter school-teacher, a charter school funder, a charter school board member and a consultant to charter schools and charter authorizers. 

In that last role, I've worked on the closure of more than a dozen charter schools. I've actually written a dissertation on the topic. It is difficult work, but essential to ensure that all students and families are served by their schools.

Charter schools were designed with closures in mind. They operate as schools on a contract basis with the District. Schools that cannot manage their finances or do not deliver on their academic promises know they will be closed. It's part of the bargain they make when they open – schools get more autonomy over their operations in exchange for more accountability for results. None of that makes the act of school closure any easier. 

Today, I spent most of my day working on another charter school closure. It was difficult and painful. I spoke with the school’s staff and teachers who advocated for their students in the hopes of securing the kinds of educational opportunities and continuity their kids deserve. Tonight, I met with families who need to find new schools for their children, working to understand what they are looking for in a school and making plans to help them enroll.

Closures are never the fault of students. Yet, they most often bear the brunt of the consequences of school closures. We need to do more to minimize those effects. We need compassionate and knowledgeable people working with students, families, staff, and teachers as they process the closure. We need to make sure that decisions about school closures are made in timely fashion, so that students can select new schools as part of the regular enrollment process. We should consider a lottery preference for all students affected by school closures. Students leaving a closing school should be afforded every opportunity to enroll in a high-performing school of their choice. This requires a change in law and moral courage to do the right thing for children whose schooling is disrupted by circumstances beyond their control.  Most importantly, we need to increase the number of excellent public schools in the District to make sure there are always plenty of good schools for students to attend if their school is closed. 

I believe in excellent public schools - both traditional and charter - and I will work hard when elected to make sure every child in the District attends one. All of our children deserve that. 

Jessica Sutter