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Matt Frumin Testimony – DC Council – Comprehensive Plan Amendment Act of 2020

Testimony of Matthew Frumin on the

Comprehensive Plan Education Facilities Element

Thank you for this opportunity to testify on this important subject.

My focus today is not on the land use issues will be the focus of much of the testimony, but on the Education Facilities Element that is intended to offer a vision for the education infrastructure in our city.  Settling a clear vision is critical to our success in this all important area on which so much of the city’s growth and future depend. 

There is much to commend in the proposed Education Facilities Element, but also important things that can and should be fixed by the Council in its review process so that as enacted it: 

  • Unequivocally establishes that the key priority in the next decade is to ensure an excellent matter-of-right path from PK through high school in every community.  Achieving that goal lay at the heart of ensuring equity and fairness and supporting the long-term growth of the city.  The goal is almost universally endorsed, but rarely followed through on.  The current draft endorses the goal, but then, as is all too common, significantly undermines it with specific proposed policies. 
  • Calls for rational correlation of the addition of new school capacity and location of such capacity to accommodate realistic expectations of need, recognizing that achieving rationality will require coordinated planning between the sectors.  The current draft implies a significant need for new capacity based on projected enrollments based on estimates formulated years ago.  Even before COVID, the actual increases in enrollment lagged the projections. Meanwhile, in many parts of the city, we already have significant overcapacity.  That excess capacity drives up costs and dilutes the dollars available to directly serve students sending them to administrators and building owners.  Fiscal responsibility requires a rational approach to new school capacity that has been sorely lacking.  
  • Rejects the encouragement of co-location of charter schools inside DCPS buildings.  Such an approach would make a mockery of the core goal of delivering an excellent matter-of-right system in every community and as has been seen in many jurisdictions invites operational challenges and with dual administrations in one building maximizes administrative cost as opposed to investing in direct service to students.  The suggestion in the draft to encourage such co-locations is drawn from the proposed 2018 Master Facilities Plan that the Council declined to embrace.  The Council should not embrace it here through the back door. 
  • Reflects the expectation that the city will significantly invest in its low enrolled matter-of-right schools including through completing the full modernization of all DCPS schools by a date certain (the vast majority of which that remain to be completed and are not yet slated for full modernization are east of the river) in an effort to attract students, achieve long-term economies of scale. Invest in the schools we have before further feeding excess capacity.

For years, even as there have been loud calls and strong support to ensure great matter-of-right schools offering families predictability from PK through high school n every community in the city so that families need not be at the mercy of a lottery, every community enjoys the social capital of great schools and District taxpayers are not burdened with per student costs significantly inflated by excess capacity, we have effectively drifted without a vision, some times wrongly believing our power to shape this critical local service was more limited than it actually is. 

The Comp Plan Education Facilities Element offers an opportunity to stake out a sensible vision. The Council should work with the draft proposed by the Office of Planning, making relatively modest revisions, to create such a vision and establish a broad roadmap for success in this all important area on which so much of the city’s growth and future will turn. 

We stand ready to support you in that effort and would happily share specific, redlined proposed revisions to the current draft. 

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. 

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