Testimony of Iris Bond Gill
Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education Thursday, June 26, 2019
Good Afternoon Councilmembers. My name is Iris Bond Gill and I’m here to testify about the School Based Budgeting Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and the At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019.
As a parent who’s been actively engaged on my school’s LSAT, I can see the merits of both bills. They aim to provide a more detailed understanding than we have currently of how at-risk funds are being used. However, the At-Risk funding bill does not go far enough. The Office of the DC Auditor just released a report finding that, far too often, the funds for at-risk students were used to meet other school needs. The DC Council should require that at-risk funds be supplemental as they were intended to be and and never used to supplant other district and federal funds AND that the reporting on how at-risk funds are budgeted and spent be clear and consistent across all schools.
And I’ll add that there is currently a line that if charter LEAs do not properly comply with reporting, the Public Charter School Board can withhold future at-risk funding. The authority to withhold funds should sit with the state education agency (osse) or with this Council, not with PCSB.
I support the requirement in the School-based Budgeting Transparency Act that all publicly funded schools comply with the Open Meetings Act. One area where the bill falls short is in uniform compliance with the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. Right now only DCPS can be FOIAd. However, charter compliance with FOIA is already in place in 39 other states, including those with some of the largest charter sectors. If you talk to charter school teachers, parents, and the general public, there’s broad agreement that this transparency measure is needed. FOIA is an important backstop when there isn’t enough transparency, when communication has failed, and when the health and safety of students is jeopardized, such as the issues you heard earlier around sexual assaults in our schools.
I’ve heard that making PCSB the entity subject to FOIA will work just as well. It won’t. PCSB will never collect all of the information from the LEAs and it would be redundant to try. I’ve also heard that making charter LEAs subject to FOIA will take precious time away from teaching. Well, as a charter school parent, I expect my school to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time– and they do. I expect them to be able to teach AND administer statewide testing. I expect them to teach AND manage enrollment and audits. I expect them to teach AND manage federal grant and reporting requirements and on and on. Essentially, we require schools to teach while remaining compliant with the law as publicly funded schools. The occasional FOIA is no different.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today.