District of Columbia Charter Schools: DC Public Charter School Board Should Include All Required Items in Annual Report

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What the GAO found

The District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995, as amended, (School Reform Act) authorizes the DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) to review and approve applications to establish charter schools. Using a multi-step process, including interviews and public hearings, the PCSB requires applicants to demonstrate that a school was needed in the proposed location and would be able to recruit and retain students. However, in line with a revised application process stemming from its 2021-2024 strategic plan, beginning in 2023, the PCSB expects to approve or deny new applications, based in part on a school’s ability to respond to a need not already met by a traditional public school. or a charter school elsewhere in the district. PCSB staff said they plan to assess the district’s needs for charter schools by conducting an annual needs assessment and working closely with the DC government. Staff said the PCSB would not accept new applications until 2023.

The PCSB uses several mechanisms to monitor the academic performance of charter schools and compliance with applicable legal requirements (see figure). The PCSB is revising one such mechanism – its performance management framework – to incorporate equity measures and address concerns that top-rated schools are not meeting the needs of all of their students. For example, rather than reporting performance measures for all students as a single group, PCSB plans to begin reporting this information by subgroups of students, such as race/ethnicity, gender, and status. of disability. The PCSB uses a system of progressive actions to encourage schools to correct problems identified by monitoring.

DC Public Charter School Board (PCSB) Oversight Mechanisms

The 2021 PCSB Annual Report fully included 12 of the 15 elements required by the School Reform Act. Staff gave a series of reasons for excluding parts of three required elements. For example, staff stated that much of the excluded information is available on the CPSP website and is more comprehensive than could be presented in the annual report; however, the annual report does not include web addresses that link to the information. By including all items in its annual report and providing links to information on its website where appropriate, the PCSB can meet its reporting requirements while providing parents and stakeholders with access to comprehensive information about charter schools in DC.

Why GAO Did This Study

Nearly half of DC’s public school students were enrolled in 128 charter schools in the 2020-21 school year, according to the PCSB. The School Reform Act requires the PCSB — DC’s sole charter authority — to approve charters, monitor schools, and submit annual reports on its work.

The District of Columbia Appropriations Act of 2005, as amended, provided that the GAO review DC’s chartering powers every 5 years. This report describes how the PCSB reviews applications, monitors charter schools and takes corrective action, and reviews the PCSB’s compliance with its annual reporting requirements, among other objectives.

The GAO reviewed PCSB policies and procedures, including the 2021 Charter Implementation Guidelines, the 2020-21 Charter Review and Renewal Guidelines, and the 2021-2024 PCSB Strategic Plan, known as strategic roadmap. The GAO also compared the PCSB’s 2021 annual report to the requirements of the School Reform Act and interviewed the chairman and staff of the PCSB board of directors and DC government officials.

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