As part of Sunshine Week, Councilmember Allen to introduce bill expanding FOIA and Open Meetings law to all public schools

Tomorrow, Wednesday, March 13, Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6) will announce a bill expanding FOIA and Open Meetings law to include charter schools as part of the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” at a press conference on the steps of the John A. Wilson Building at 10:30 am. Media will hear from councilmembers, advocates, teachers, and parents all in support of the bill. March 10-16 is Sunshine Week 2019.

The Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 would require every DC Public School and Public Charter School be subject to the same transparency and open government laws, something 39 other states around the country already have in place.

“To me, this is very straightforward: public schools should all be subject to FOIA and open meetings. Whether it’s a public school or a public charter school, those are your tax dollars and students, parents, teachers, and lawmakers all deserve transparency,” said Councilmember Allen. “Right now, DC is trailing most of the country in holding every public school to the same transparency standards. Since this week is Sunshine Week, it’s a perfect time to make this change.”

Here’s a summary of what will be proposed by the Public School Transparency Amendment Act:

  • Requires Public Charter Schools (PCS) and their boards of trustees to comply with FOIA and open meetings laws.

  • Gives school communities a voice in decisions about their school by requiring a PCS to include two teachers and, for high schools and adult learning schools, a student to sit on its board in addition to parents.
  • Requires the PCSB to provide PCS and their boards with assistance in complying with FOIA.

  • To track the impact of the bill, it requires the PCSB to provide a report to the Council outlining the number of FOIA requests to PCS and the cost to them in the first year of the law.

  • Public Charter Schools would be required to report all contracts in their annual report (DCPS contracts are all publicly listed already) and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) will share already collected information about large contracts as they are issued.
    • Currently, PCS have to send a report to PCSB listing the responses to an RFP for contracts over $25,000, who was selected, and why. The bill from Councilmember Allen requires the PCSB to publish those reports and removes the exemption from the statutory requirement to issue an RFP for management organizations. DC Public Schools already publish all contracts as they are issued during the year via the Office of Contracting and Procurement.

  • Adds some additional requirements for a PCS’s annual report:
    • Contact info for the parent association.
    • The amount of money donated by anyone who gave more than $500. The current law requires a school to list the names of anyone who donated more than $500, but not the amount they donated.
    • All employees’ names and salaries - every DCPS employee’s names and salaries are public information.
    • As noted, all contracts awarded by the school regardless of amount. DCPS already lists all contracts.

“When tax dollars are involved, the public has a right to know how that money is spent and the decisions around it. That includes everything from school leadership pay to teacher salaries to contracting,” said Allen. “I know most charter schools are committed to transparency on their own and do a great job with it. But parents and teachers should be able to have some baseline guarantees that don’t vary school to school.”

Councilmember Allen continued, “Still, recognizing that charter schools are structured and run differently than traditional public schools, the bill includes measures to evaluate any administrative challenges so the Council and the Mayor can adjust in future years.”  

Councilmember Allen will introduce the bill at the legislative meeting on March 19. The National Association of Charter School Authorizers, in recommendations to its members, and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, in its proposed model law for public charter schools, both recommend that public charter schools and their governing bodies follow local open meetings and freedom of information laws.

In addition to Councilmembers, the following community members will speak to the bill during the press conference:

Scott Goldstein, Director, EmpowerEd
Christian Herr, Teacher, Cesar Chavez Prep School
LaJoy Johnson-Law, Parent, Ward 8 DC Charter School special needs student

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