Suzanne Wells Testimony – Joint Budget Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies

Committee of the Whole

Committee on Education

Joint Budget Oversight Hearing for all Education Agencies

June 4, 2020

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today at the joint budget oversight hearing for all education agencies.  My name is Suzanne Wells, and I’m the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO).  Our organization is a member of the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities (C4DC).

As our city develops the FY21 budget while dealing with the economic impacts from covid-19, the W6PSPO is deeply appreciative of the commitment the city has to funding education, particularly our public schools.  We recognize the city has many serious needs, and reduced revenues make the choices of what to fund very difficult.  We know meeting these needs isn’t going to be easy. But both covid-19 and the national cries for racial justice show the important responsibility our city has to reimagine our public school system.  We must not let inertia or lack of will allow us to continue doing business as usual.  We must find ways to address deep needs while wisely using public funds.

Unfortunately, what stands out about the education budget for both DCPS and the charter sector is how much it is business as usual.  DC’s dual system of schools of by right and charter schools is costly, with duplicative offerings and dispersed enrollment resulting in many inadequately resourced schools.  This continues with the FY21 budget.  We can no longer afford the experiment of opening new schools to provide a lottery chance for families to choose a school. The unregulated growth of DC charters in the last 20 years has been out of proportion to DC’s student population. This has resulted in a 40% school closure rate, tens of millions of taxpayer dollars spent on schools that closed, and thousands of unfilled seats, including 10 new schools opening in 2020 that currently have a fraction of their seats filled. Each empty seat means resources are spread more thinly across existing schools.

Significant municipal savings could be realized by investing and growing our by-right public school system, and ensuring every student has a high-quality neighborhood school regardless of where they live. Encouraging increasing enrollment at DCPS schools of right will provide a return on investment in existing infrastructure, reduce per pupil charter school facility allowances, and save money budgeted for the Kids Ride Free program.  A commitment to our by-right public school system will begin to allow us to use our city’s education funds in more meaningful ways that support students.

There are several things we encourage the City to do to reimagine our public school system.  First is to more accurately project enrollment counts to reflect the fact that DCPS receives more students after the October enrollment count than they are funded for; thereby allowing DCPS to better serve the students it receives.  Second, enact a moratorium on the approval and opening of any DCPS or charter school for FY21, unless needed to ensure a DCPS by-right choice for families.   Third, is to stop the expansion of new campuses for existing charter schools for five years.  We also believe the City should commit to no school closures for FY21, thereby ensuring stability and reducing trauma.

We must reimagine the FY21 budget so there are no cuts for schools educating the highest percentages or numbers of our at-risk students. Investments in supports for these schools to address digital divide issues, food insecurity, lack of access to high-quality health care and behavioral support, and lack of special education services, while also ensuring those schools have equitable teacher training, experience, and retention.

One particular part of the Mayor’s proposed a budget that is glaring in its business as usual approach is the funding for technology.  The proposed budget sticks to DCPS’s pre covid-19 plan to provide computers to every student in grades 3-12 over three years.  SY20/21 will be year two of the three-year plan to provide a 1:1 device to student ratio.  This plan is totally inadequate for the new reality of education, in which learning will occur at home and in school. We must get to a 1:1 ratio this coming school year.  The Digital Equity in DC Education Coalition estimates it will take an approximately $11 million investment in computers and IT support in FY21 to get to the 1:1 ratio.  Without this investment, we risk having students whose families can’t provide them with computers fall further behind.  We also urge the city to establish a Digital Divide Coalition that can develop recommendations for providing wifi connectivity throughout the city.

Another area that needs to be reimagined is school libraries (Attachment A).  In the FY21 school level budgets, it appears 18 schools (primarily at east-of-the river schools) petitioned out their librarians, including Miner Elementary in Ward 6. These schools didn’t petition out their librarians because they think librarians aren’t important, rather they didn’t have the funding to support all the positions they need to provide their students with a well-rounded education.  We strongly encourage the DCPS budget be reimagined so that librarians are funded for every DCPS school.

We ask the Council to strike Subtitle B (Education Facility Colocation Amendment Act of 2020) from the Budget Support Act. Once school reopens, DCPS will need its entire school inventory to allow for social distancing as DCPS finds ways to bring back the most students it safely can.  Co-location is an important issue, and shouldn’t be slipped through in a budget amendment.  If the Council believes co-location is important, it should hold a public hearing on it in the future.

While it is not a budget issue, we strongly encourage DCPS to communicate with parents sooner rather than later about what the school schedule will be for the coming year.  For the most part, I have not heard parents express preferences for any particular schedule, but rather parents need to know as soon as possible what the schedule will be so they can begin planning for distance learning at home, before and after school options, and child care.

In closing, these difficult times require us not to continue doing business as usual.  The education budget must be reimagined in ways that will promote equity and ensure there is a high quality by-right education choice in all parts of the city.  We can and must reimagine the education budget.


Attachment A

DCPS Librarians

  1. Full-time certified librarian staffed in every DCPS school.
  2. Schools with over 300 students must employ a full-time librarian.
  3. Increased funding for print and e-books for general and special education populations.
  4. Timely delivery of funding for library books.  DCPS librarians did not receive the promised library books for their collections due to budget/purchase order delays.  This crippled and marginalized many programs last school year.
  5. Funding for general technology.  Some library programs do not have projectors, SMART Boards, laptops for self-checkout, laptops/desktops for student research.  Some are even struggling with the poor or lack of circulation desk computer to check out books through the online vendor, Follett Books.
  6. Confirm receipt of the Empowered Learners Initiative (ELI) computers – some schools have not given the librarian the DCPS issued ELI laptops designated for the librarians.  This is a citywide technology program and librarians were included in the original design and implementation.
  7. Funding for Makerspace activities and projects.  DCPS librarians have been charged to create Makerspace activities and projects for students, but unfortunately expected to pay for all supplies.
  8. Funding for office supplies.  Librarians need to be included in the general supply list for departments within a school rather than as teachers.  DCPS librarians have clerical supply needs that exceed beyond the yearly allotment of supply funds teachers receive each year.

 

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