Three Benefits of Public Charter Schools Using Vacant School Buildings

Finding the right building can be a challenge for DC’s public charter schools. Many public charter schools seek to occupy a vacant DC Public School (DCPS) building as the obvious location for their school. When public charter schools successfully locate in an unused DCPS building, both the public charter school and the city benefit. This allows a public charter school to move into a building that was built to be a school. Far too often, public charter schools are educating students in buildings that were not intended to be a school, which means that some schools do not have access to things like playgrounds, fields, gyms, and cafeterias. By having more public charter schools in public buildings, the city can gain higher revenue, benefit from cost-effective renovations, and use more space in public buildings.  

Benefit 1: Public Charter Schools Provide more revenue to the city

Last year alone, private landlords collectively received more than $13.5 million in rent from public charter schools located in commercial facilities. Approximately three-quarters of public charter schools lease a building, and more than half of these leases are in commercial facilities. The remaining 46% of leases for public charter school buildings are leased from the city, which leads to regular rent payments to the city and significant renovations and upkeep of city-owned buildings. If the city leases more buildings to public charter schools, it will see an increase in rent revenue and beautification of currently vacant buildings.

Benefit 2: Public Charter Schools Renovate Buildings at no Additional Cost to the City

Renovations to city buildings are another significant benefit to the city in leasing to public charter schools. In fact, 79% of city buildings leased to public charter schools on a lease term longer than one year have undergone significant improvements. Public charter schools have completely modernized many spaces, constructed new buildings or further expanded the space, and much more. For example, DC Scholars PCS recently renovated the former Shadd school.  Today the building has 28 modernized classrooms, a 30 seat computer lab, a parent resource room, and a multipurpose room with four basketball hoops and a stage.  Other public charter schools tailor their spaces to better fit their innovative programs. For example, Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS, a public charter school with a focus on sustainability, has completely renovated the former J.F. Cooke school and added a green roof, in-house water cistern, automated faucets, daylight harvesting and solar panels, and an expanded composting system. These renovations not only provide improved conditions for learning, but they also reduce neighborhood blight caused by empty buildings.

There is potential to continue this cycle of improving city-owned school buildings. A recent facility survey conducted by the DC Public Charter School Board (DC PCSB), indicated that 71% of public charter schools are interested in moving into a city-owned building. DC PCSB has identified 10 vacant city-owned school buildings with more than 1.6 million square feet that are ideal for public charter school to locate. However, only one of these city-owned school buildings is currently being considered as the location for a public charter school. Instead, public charter schools will have to continue to lease from private landlords.

City-owned buildings that are priority for public charter schools




  • “Unavailable: Will be needed as DCPS swing space”


  • “Unavailable: Currently part Department of Parks and Recreation site, and per Student Assignment and Boundary Plan, DCPS may need to re-open”


  • “Right of first offer process with DME, previous bids from interested public charter schools were not accepted. Low potential for release to a public charter school”


  • “Unavailable: In use by non-DCPS entity”

Malcolm X

  • “Unavailable: In use by other District agency”


  • “Unavailable: Per Student Assignment and Boundary Plan, DCPS may need to re-open”


  • “Unavailable: In use – Administrative purposes”


  • “Unavailable: DCPS committed to use in the future for CTE programming”


  • “Unavailable: In use by the DCPS Athletic Department”


  • “Unavailable: Remains vacant”


Benefit 3: Public charter schools can help the city achieve better utilization rates of public buildings through co-location

Public charter schools actively pursue opportunities to gain access to city-owned school buildings.  However, the city’s process for awarding these buildings to public charter schools is not always transparent or effective. For example, despite multiple bids in 2013 from DC Prep PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and Rocketship Education PCS, the Winston Education Campus remains vacant and instead used for kitchen storage.

Given that very few city-owned school buildings are made available to public charter schools and that the award process is not straightforward, co-location at under-utilized DCPS schools could be explored as an option for public charter schools in need of facilities. In New York City, co-location is very common, as 64% of all public schools are co-located, with public charter schools making up 9% of co-located schools.

Co-location could also act as a good match for growing public charter schools that need short-term space. As of SY15-16, six DCPS schools had utilization rates of under 50% and could be good candidates for co-location. Co-location would provide an option for public charter schools in their early years, and the DCPS school would still have the potential to grow and reclaim the space.  In the meantime, the city would increase utilization rates of public buildings, earn revenue, and be able to better share public resources such as school nurses, crossing guards, and resource officers.

Under-utilized DCPS school buildings


DCPS schools


SY13-14 utilization

SY14-15 utilization

SY15-16 utilization

Brookland EC @ Bunker Hill/Bunker Hill ES





Browne EC





Coolidge HS





Hart MS





Jefferson MS





Johnson, John Hayden MS







There are several successful examples across the city of co-locating. Three public charter schools currently co-locate with a DCPS school: Appletree Early Learning PCS – Southwest with Jefferson MS, Achievement Preparatory Academy PCS – Elementary with Malcom X ES at Green, and Briya PCS with Bancroft ES. In general, these co-located public charter schools use designated areas within the school, and may reserve large spaces for special events. In some cases, the partnership even extends beyond the building. For example, Jefferson MS students volunteer to read to Appletree’s PK3 and PK4 students, and Briya PCS’s efforts to improve adult literacy is aligned with Bancroft ES’s bilingual program and guiding belief that families are critical partners in student success. In addition to these public charter schools co-located with current DCPS schools, there are 12 public charter schools who co-locate with a different public charter school in the same building.

Co-located public charter schools


Public charter schools

Shared building address

  • Ingenuity Prep PCS
  • National Collegiate Preparatory PCHS

4600 Livingston Road, SE

  • Community College Preparatory Academy PCS
  • Monument Academy PCS

500 19th Street, NE

  • Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS
  • Lee Montessori PCS

200 Douglas Street, NE

  • Latin American Montessori Bilingual PCS
  • Perry Street Preparatory PCS

1800 Perry Street, NE

  • LAYC Career Academy PCS
  • The Next Step/El Próximo Paso PCS

3047 15th Street, NW

  • Sela PCS
  • Shining Stars Montessori Academy PCS

6015-6017 Chillum Place, NE


Given these potential advantages and high level demand from public charter schools, awarding unused or under-utilized DCPS school buildings to public charter schools is the right solution not only for public charter schools, but for the students and families, and the city as well.

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