Numbers say charter migration a trickle, not flood
The first quarter of the year always brings the same anecdotes. A Ward 6 elementary school principal reported that five children from public charter schools showed up on a recent Monday morning.
"The charter schools are letting their favorite children go," she said.
A parent at a Ward 5 middle school says "a record number of kids have been pushed back on us by charters."
The conventional wisdom is that the District's public charter schools, which operate with more autonomy than traditional public schools, shed themselves of undesirable students with impunity as the year goes on. Many of them end up back at their neighborhood public schools, while the money that the children represent -- a District per-pupil funding level that averages about $9,000 -- stays at the charters, forcing DCPS to serve kids they have not budgeted for.
But school officials on both the public and public charter sides say there is no data supporting the phenomenon of some vast annual migration. According to DCPS, of the 2,529 mid-year admissions during the 2008-09 school year, just 264 (7 percent) were from public charter schools. The rest were kids who were either new to city, who had dropped out and returned, or who came from private and parochial schools.
DCPS spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway also said the 264 figure does not represent a net gain, and that it is offset by students who leave. "DCPS students also transfer to charters mid-year--and the funding doesn't follow them either," she said.
Barnaby Towns, communications director for FOCUS (Friends of Choice in Urban Schools) an advocacy group for D.C. Public Charter Schools, calls the migration "something of an urban myth" for which there is no statistical evidence.
"The reality is that children leave both charter and DCPS schools midyear for a variety of reasons," Towns said. Those include parents moving out of the area, moving their kids to schools with access to playing fields (which tends to be movement from public charter to public), and, yes, expulsion for unacceptable behavior.
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