Valerie Jablow Testimony – Oversight Hearing for Education Agencies – March 9, 2021

My name is Valerie Jablow, and as a DCPS parent, I am testifying about DCPS; the charter board; DME; and OSSE. That’s 3 minutes to address the performance of four agencies handling more than $2 BILLION annually—45 seconds per agency or about $11 million per second.

As a public witness, I am theoretically like everyone else testifying today, even though some are here on behalf of private organizations with direct fiscal interest in these agencies. 1

1. Two public witnesses on the list for this hearing—from the DC Policy Center and from EmpowerK12–will be working with OSSE’s new research practice partnership, headed by the Urban Institute.

Many parents and school staff cannot be here because they are working. One of those missing parents has worked years before the pandemic on getting our schools closer to digital equity—without being paid a dime.2

2. This is Grace Hu, DCPS parent and lead on Digital Equity in DC Education, whose paid work has nothing to do with any of the agencies here.

Indeed, like most DCPS parents (as well as most DC citizens), whether on ward education councils or PTAs, I am not paid in any way

  • to testify;
  • to speak to anyone in DC government; or
  • to rent rooms in the Wilson building and purchase food for round robin meetings with council members and staff to advance an agenda. 3

3 PAVE did this for several years. It was not deemed lobbying because PAVE (paid) staff did not meet with council members or staff. PAVE (paid) staff simply made everything else possible, so (unpaid) parents could advance PAVE’s agenda. What PTAs or ward ed councils do this–or have paid staff?

As neither the council nor the mayor have visitor logs, it seems important to say this.

It’s also important to say that proposed changes to DC’s school governance are being floated because mayoral control is not working for many students and families.

Here’s more about how it’s not working:

–I found out from a tweet that DCPS last month was discussing locating another high school in the building of my child’s DCPS high school, Duke Ellington. No one at Duke knew about or was involved in the discussions. 4

4 You can see the planning discussions here: https://dcpsplanning.wordpress.com/category/wilson-feeder-pattern/

–This is exactly how our charter schools operate: someone somewhere signs a lease or buys a property and/or plans a school, after which the public finds out and can only react fruitlessly—while paying for the whole thing. 5

5 There are many stories about this through DC—here is a recent one concerning DC Prep: https://washingtoncitypaper.com/article/177841/dc-prep-wants-to-build-a-charter-school-in-southeast-but-the-neighborhood-says-no/ Interestingly, the council just passed legislation to ensure that DC Prep would have first dibs on the closed Wilkinson school, which would leave up in the air the property DC Prep bought in Ward 8, the subject of that linked story. Will the community there have a say in whether DC Prep locates there or simply becomes a landlord?

–As it is, the law governing a public right of first offer for closed DCPS schools to charters has been rendered moot by private meetings as well as legislation to offer Kenilworth and Wilkinson, respectively, to specific charter schools. 6

6 Kenilworth was offered in nonpublic meetings to Statesmen: https://educationdc.net/2018/07/20/when-public-officials-go-private-kenilworth-edition/  Wilkinson is being offered to DC Prep on the premise that DC Prep is losing its rental space at Birney—even though DC Prep owns a property in Ward 8 that it could use instead: https://lims.dccouncil.us/Legislation/CA24-0032 Both offers go around DC Code for right of first offer of closed DCPS facilities to charters—essentially giving priority to some charters over others. How is that a fair marketplace for schools?

–The current discussion around Duke involves more than $100 million of capital spending outside the law governing that, in an effort to expand capacity in Ward 3 (the only ward with all its schools already renovated), while schools elsewhere remain untouched by fulsome modernizations. 7

7 The plan to expand Ward 3 school capacity is outlined here: https://educationdc.net/2020/08/14/advantaging-the-advantaged-a-tale-of-312-million/ Disparities in modernizations are outlined by the 21st Century School Fund here: https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/inequity.pdf and here:

This image was created by Mary Levy in October 2019 (and is available here:
https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2019/10/image006.png and here:
https://twitter.com/MaryLevy17/status/1180912151252410370)
All of this Ward 3 capital effort (outside the PACE Act and without any consideration of changing out of bounds slots, feeder schools, and boundaries), alongside the Kenilworth and Wilkinson offers, suggests that there is indeed a master facilities plan—it’s just not public and is centered on the needs of the most powerful in the city, rather than having anything to do with racial equity. If, as DCPS notes in its Wilson feeder pattern documents, expanding capacity in Ward 3 is about “equity in access,” why aren’t we expanding schools there so everyone in DCPS has a seat of right there? What “equity” is this expenditure of >$100 million for Ward 3 and who is it serving? What could that >$100 million be used for instead of curated diversity in one ward’s schools?

–Even though most of Ward 3’s schools are not overcapacity if only in bounds students attended, the expansion is to ensure diversity—while DCPS is not examining the diversity of schools elsewhere nor allowing voices from elsewhere while decisions are made now. 8

8 You can see this Ward 3 capacity/in bounds student mismatch here: https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2020/08/wilson-feeder-shed-enrollment-utilization-draft.jpg

–Recall that Duke’s field was taken away so the mayor could give away prime use of another public field to a private school—as if the purpose of DCPS assets is not for students, but to balance the mayor’s political priorities. 9

9 This is what happened to Duke’s field: https://educationdc.net/2020/04/27/the-education-mysteries-tale-2-ellington-field/

–All this is happening while budget expert Mary Levy has determined that budgets have been cut at 49 of 115 DCPS schools—mostly nonselective schools east of Rock Creek Park. A good number are not even projected to lose enrollment.

–Even DCPS schools without budget cuts have effectively had them anyway, because staff costs have grown more than budgets. This is not recovery.

–DCPS has also barred the use of federal relief funds for staffing—despite the fact that with a timeline of almost 3 years, those funds will be around longer than many DC teachers.

–DCPS is thus denying its own schools recovery funds for needed staff in recovery efforts, while there is no guidance from OSSE otherwise—a move that empowers LEAs over individual schools and their specific needs.

–And while DCPS has pushed re-opening, principals, teachers, and families were not involved as true partners in formulating, and implementing, re-opening plans—while no one has examined re-opening through a racial equity lens, recognizing that until everyone is vaccinated, distance learning should be a FLOOR for at least 2021. 10

10 At at least one DCPS school, the re-open committee convened by DCPS for advising on re-opening had its plans overruled by DCPS. So what was the point of that exercise? As it is, re-opening is not an easy or obvious conversation: the science does NOT show that children are not transmitting the virus, there is no way to ensure they do not transmit it, and there is no way to ensure everyone is vaccinated before the end of 2021, much less even later. This means that distance learning should be a FLOOR for at least 2021 and be made as equitable and good as it can be (which is not happening now). Finally, ask WHO is demanding a return to FT in person learning—are they the majority of DC public school families?  

–And all this is happening as discussions (at two council hearings and uncounted private meetings) about the virtues of extended time or tutoring have trumped sustained investment in what we know will help our students now: more social workers, emotional support structures, and stability in staffing and budgeting at our schools.

We can do much better. Thank you.

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