As LL first reported, city legislators are gearing up to put additional restrictions on the expansion and oversight of the city’s charter schools. Yesterday, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, along with Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells and Ward 5 Councilmember Harry Thomas Jr., introduced legislation toward those ends.

Well, charter backers are wasting no time fighting back.

The city’s main pro-charter group, Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), is planning a Wilson Building press conference tomorrow morning, to be followed by a door-to-door lobbying tour of the hallways, where politicos will be given copies of a pro-charter petition signed by 5,700 charter supporters. The petition, according to a press release, “asks the mayor and Council to continue to let the parents decide how many charter schools are open in D.C.”

A meeting was scheduled this afternoon in the office of Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, but it was rescheduled due to scheduling conflicts.

In an e-mail circulated to charter parents asking them to attend, a FOCUS employee explained that, “We just want you to tell your story and why you chose your charter school….It’s an election year and we want the DC Council members (especially those that are anti-charter) to know that they have to answer to parents who choose to send their kids to charter schools.”

Press release after jump.

Nearly 6,000 District Residents Say No to Limits on Public School Choice, Yes to School Buildings and Public Services for Public Charter School Students Press Briefing Thursday, June 5, 10:30 a.m., 14th and Pennsylvania N.W. (Freedom Plaza)

Washington, DC – June 4, 2008 – More than 5,700 parents, grandparents and other concerned D.C. residents are calling on the D.C. Council and the Fenty administration to support the education of their children. The residents signed a petition asking the administration and Council to put the needs of the District’s school children before politics. They are asking the mayor and Council to continue to let the parents decide how many charter schools are open in D.C. The petitioners are also demanding that the District provide school buildings and public services on an equitable basis to public charter school students.

The signatures were obtained during a two-week Kids Aren’t Cookie Cutter – Schools Shouldn’t be Either petition campaign. Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), a D.C. grassroots non-profit that serves as advocate for the District’s charter schools, and some petitioners, will present copies of the signed petitions to the D.C. Council and the Fenty administration on Thursday, June 5, 2008, following a press briefing in Freedom Plaza at 10:30 a.m.

“I was eager to sign the petition. I have two children at a public charter school and I fully support any measure that will allow me to keep them in an environment that best suits their needs and interests. I appreciate having public school choice,” says Elva Anderson, parent and Ward 1 resident.

There are now 22,000 students in 55 public charter schools on 80 campuses around the District. The charter school enrollment makes up nearly one third of all public school enrollment in D.C. Enrollment in charter schools has been increasing at around 15% per year since 2000 and thousands of additional students are on waiting lists.

The vast majority of D.C.’s charter schools are in areas that are home to the District’s most economically disadvantaged families. Before the advent of charter schools in 1996, parents living in those areas had no choice but to place their children in decaying, often unsafe public schools where they often received a poor education. These families have flocked to the charter schools, which are invariably clean, bright, and safe and have had a positive impact on their children’s learning.

“In an educational system that is struggling to meet the needs of District children, parents have spoken up loudly against limiting the number of charter schools,” says Ariana-Quiñones-Miranda, Deputy Director of FOCUS and mother of a charter school student. “Parents are in support of the legal right of charter schools to have access to former DCPS school buildings and equitable access to city services that are provided to other public school students,” she added. “We want our council members and the administration to hear their voices.”

In recent months, some members of the D.C. Council have suggested that, in spite of the great parental demand for charter schools, and their key role in D.C. public school reform, the District needs to inhibit charter school growth. Meanwhile, the Fenty administration so far has made available to the charter schools only one of the 23 closing DCPS school buildings and has rejected a recommendation from the police department to provide a dozen additional school resource officers for the charter schools. In the past, charters also have had little success gaining access to school nurses, crossing guards, and other services provided by the District to DCPS students.

The petition drive, which reached every charter school in the District, was intended to begin and end during National Charter Schools Week, the first week of May. But school representatives and families were so enthusiastic about the idea of making their views known to the Council and mayor that the time was extended by a week.

The petition can still be signed online at www.focusdc.org.

A non-profit organization founded in 1996, FOCUS is the principal advocate for the District of Columbia’s public charter school movement and trains people to start high quality charter schools. For more information, please visit www.focusdc.org.

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