Unequal Funding for 45% of D.C. Public School Students

D.C. Public Charter Schools Filed a Formal Complaint

In 2014, the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, Eagle Academy Public Charter School, and Washington Latin Public Charter School filed suit in federal court, asking that the D.C. government be directed to comply with the legal mandate that public charter school students receive the same amount of funding as their peers in the traditional public school system. The defendants in the suit are the mayor and chief financial officer, in their official capacities. District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), which is not involved financially with public charter schools, is not a defendant in the suit. FOCUS, which provides advocacy and other support to D.C.'s public charter schools, is coordinating the legal team that prepared the complaint.  

The plaintiffs are requesting that the court require D.C. to follow the law, which requires equal funding regardless of type of public school. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages, but rather funding equity between the sectors moving forward.

The plaintiffs were supported by the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Center for Education Reform, FOCUS, and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools, who filed an Amicus Brief on behalf of the plaintiffs.

What Are Public Charter Schools?

The District of Columbia has two types of public schools—traditional public schools and public charter schools. D.C. public charter schools are unique public schools that have the autonomy and freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement by the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB).

D.C. public charter schools are open to all D.C. residents, do not charge tuition, and do not have special entrance requirements. Like DCPS, charter schools serve students with special needs and linguistically diverse students and must obey all civil rights, health, and safety laws. Charters currently educate 45% of all students who attend public schools in the District.

Equal Funding Is Legally Mandated

D.C. law requires that the amount of funding a public school receives is based on student enrollment, not type of public school.  For example, the same funding should follow two third grade students, regardless of which kind of public school he or she attends. Many D.C. families have children in both public charter and traditional public schools. These children’s schools should each be given the same amount of local government funding to educate them.

However, since the first public charter schools opened in 1996, the D.C. government has ignored this requirement, consistently underfunding charter schools as compared to DCPS. According to recent figures, this illegal underfunding has amounted to $770 million from 2008 to 2015, which amounts to $1600 - $2600 per student every year for the last seven years.
Public charter schools serve a higher share of economically disadvantaged students than DCPS, and typically are located in the communities with the greatest need. There are currently 112 public charter schools, serving over 38,000 D.C. residents. They are located in all wards of the District with the exception of Ward 3.

D.C. public charter schools have an on-time high school graduation rate that is 21 percentage points higher than DCPS, and D.C. charter students significantly outperform DCPS peers on standardized reading and math tests. Fifty seven percent of charter students are proficient on the annual state test, compared to 50% of DCPS students, and charter students outperform DCPS students in every ward of the District (except Ward 3 where there are no charters). The performance gap is particularly wide in Wards 7 and 8, where charter students outperform DCPS students by 18 and 28 percentage points, respectively.

Recent Update

The D.C. government filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which was brought before the D.C. federal district court in June. The judge denied the District’s motion to dismiss two of the three claims in the lawsuit: the Home Rule Act and School Reform Act. In her opinion, the judge stated that “it is not yet clear whether the actions of the Council impermissibly conflict with the will of Congress as set forth in the Home Rule Act and the School Reform Act.”  The third claim in the lawsuit, based on the Supremacy Clause, was dismissed. The case now moves to the next phase, at which time the judge will hear arguments and then rule on the grounds of the case. 

Additional Resources


Please show your support for 45% of D.C. public school students by contacting your D.C. elected officials:


Mayor: Muriel Bowser eom@dc.gov (202) 727-2643
Chairman: Phil Mendelson pmendelson@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8032
At-Large: Elissa Silverman esilverman@dccouncil.us (202) 724-7772
At-Large: Vincent Orange vorange@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8174
At-Large: David Grosso dgrosso@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8105
At-Large: Anita Bonds abonds@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8064
Ward 1: Brianne Nadeau bnadeau@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8181
Ward 2: Jack Evans jevans@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8058
Ward 3: Mary M. Cheh mcheh@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8062
Ward 4: Brandon Todd btodd@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8052
Ward 5: Kenyan McDuffie kmcduffie@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8028
Ward 6: Charles Allen callen@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8072
Ward 7: Yvette Alexander yalexander@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8068
Ward 8: LaRuby May lmay@dccouncil.us (202) 724-8045