Testimony of Rebecca Reina
Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council
to Council of the District of Columbia,
Committee on Education,
B23-0199, the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” and
B23-0281, the “Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019”
on 10/2/19 at 10:00 pm, John A. Wilson building, room 412
Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council is a volunteer organization that brings together parents, educators, students, and community members to share information and to advocate for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while ensuring we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both public educational sectors.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback on the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. I am here on behalf of W1EC to support the Act’s passage. We believe it is necessary to keep our children safe, minimize the possibility of financial mismanagement of public dollars, and create an environment of openness and collaboration within our schools, among many other things.
When we rebooted the Ward 1 Education Council at the start of this year, Cesar Chavez Prep PCS, was one of our Ward 1 schools. I was glad to know some of the teachers there who were involved with organizing the first charter school teacher’s union in DC. So when those same teachers discovered a few months later that the school at which they taught would close at the end of the 2018-9 school year, by receiving a phone call from a Washington Post reporter who informed them in order to allow them to comment, I was deeply saddened. Schools are communities. Educators, parents, and students create bonds to best support students. A vital ingredient of those bonds is trust. You cannot have trust between two parties if one party is withholding relevant information.
Asking our charter schools to do something new – to be a bit more transparent and accountable – can sound scary and seem too difficult, but these are muscles that we can strengthen with practice. This bill requires the Board of Trustees of a charter school comply with the Freedom of Information Act of 1976 as well as the Open Meetings Act. But, it also requires the Office of Open Government to provide training to affected members of charter schools.
The Act would also require that more information be published on contracts over $25,000. These requirements apply to all public agencies. It should apply to our charter schools. Charter schools accept public tax dollars to fund the education of nearly half of the public school students in DC. When a charter school spends money on outside contracts, we as taxpayers, parents, and educators should know. Chavez Prep was spending a great deal of money on that type of contract, which may have contributed to the financial difficulties the school’s leaders cited for closing the campus.
When a school closes, a community is lost. When a school closes abruptly, families struggle to find stability for their students. Students and teachers scatter. I was not surprised when I reached out to the former Chavez Prep teachers I know to learn that their students are all over; many at our vitally important DCPS by-right schools, precisely because many charters do not backfill in middle school and the closure announcement occurred a week before the My School DC lottery deadline for high school. Of the 25 Chavez teachers these teachers could account for, only one landed at another charter. The rest are teaching in DCPS. To quote one, “the greater level of transparency at DCPS around salaries, operations, etc. was a big draw for me.” Salary transparency can prevent bias by race and gender, which is particularly needed in a city blessed with so many teachers of color. Transparency on operations can allow our educators to feel like valued team members who can work with their school administrators to meet the needs of our students.
The Public School Transparency Amendment Act can help us hold all our Local Education Agencies to the same standard of accountability and transparency. Our kids deserve that, regardless of the LEA they attend. Our children and our democracy require safeguards.