Thank you Chairman Grosso and members of the committee. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today on behalf of the Brent Elementary PTA.
I would like to raise three topics today with respect to the Mayor’s proposed 2018 budget for DCPS: The per pupil funding amounts, the pace of school modernizations, and specific questions about the milestones for the Jefferson Academy modernization.
First, with respect to overall funding. It is true that the overall education budget is going up, but as we all know, that is because enrollment is going up. It’s not a stretch to conclude that one of the reasons that the DC gross revenues are up every year since 2016 is connected to that fact that the population of students is also rising. That is a good thing for the City, that more families are choosing to trust in our schools and invest in DC.
But we betray that trust when we don’t invest back in schools. And hiding behind total dollar amounts without reference to increasing enrollment and costs is not being straight about the challenges our kids face. According to analysis done by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, per pupil spending has fallen further behind inflation every year since 2016. This year’s proposal to drop the per pupil spending from a two percent increase to a 1.5 percent increase will result in an even deeper hole for our schools. School budgets will drop, LSATs will face even tougher choices, and you can bet the teachers will go for 8 years in a row without a contract. Our PTA was meeting until late last night trying to figure out how to fill a $30,000 hole in the schools budget even when we are just trying to keep the same staffing levels. We are fortunate to be in a position to work on that, but many are not.
The relative turnaround for DC schools is by no means complete and letting per student funding fall back threatens the progress we have made. All across the City. We believe the per pupil allocation should be significantly increased.
With respect to modernization funding, we offer a similar concern. Under the proposed budget, the six year spend on DCPS capital projects has declined by $50m from last year when it should be growing to ensure all schools are included in the plan. In the meantime, the Deputy Mayor’s Cross Sector Task Force, launched almost two years ago, has steadfastly avoided the issue of lack of central planning of where we build capacity and seats for our students. So what we are left with is two separate authorities, including the Charter school board that is not serving a planning function, but simply approving new schools as they are proposed, adds more and more seats and further stretches budgets across the system. Add on to this the high likelihood that the Department of General Service is not the most efficient steward of resources, and it’s no wonder parents are still frustrated despite the progress we have made.
Turning to Jefferson Academy, the Brent and Feeder communities are grateful for the modest changes in the plan for Jefferson, principally moving the last budget year up by a year, and completion up to Summer of 2021. There has been a lot of confusing and conflicting information from DCPS about the milestones for modernization. However, assuming that the presentation and memo shared with the Jefferson PTA and feeder communities is correct, and the budget book and its errata memo are not, there is still some concern that without starting planning earlier than their best case scenario of “late fall / early winter of 2018”, the completion date of August 2021 will slip right into another school year. In addition to the potential of disruption in to another school year, this would mean that the first class of students from Van Ness Elementary might not have the school ready for their arrival. It is good that the feasibility study and a SIT will begin maybe this fall, maybe next winter, but given the track record of these agencies it makes sense to find every opportunity to advance the timeline.
Next year’s 6th graders will experience a great new gym and auditorium, a great new science wing, and will enter through pretty new doors. And we are thankful to the Council and your Committee for the tireless oversight and funding that has made that possible. But the kids you just heard from are right to be concerned about one thing that is inherently tied to full modernization; the temperature control in the main educational areas. They are absolutely right to be concerned about that and that is a timely and urgent health and educational attainment issue.
We hope we can make even more incremental progress on the timeline, and that the Council will take broader action to significantly adjust the priorities of the proposed budget to shift more resources into this committee.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today and for your kind and gracious hospitality to our students.