Thank you for the opportunity to testify tonight. Let me start by saying that I believe we have the same goals for all DC students, and that is for all students to flourish. But it’s easy to give lip service to equity, and a lot harder to actually implement equitable policies and allocate resources equitably. How DCPS allocates resources tells the story about what and who DCPS cares about. I want to raise awareness about 3 parts of this story:
- We’re not telling the truth about how much we’re spending on students, and we’re spending less on targeted students than we say we are. DCPS did not give schools adequate funds in the SBB base weight to cover basic general education costs – like the assistant principal, grade-level teachers, and a minimum number of related arts teachers. For example, Amidon-Bowen was short in the SBB base weight funding by $377k to cover the assistant principal, grade-level teachers, kindergarten aides, and a minimum number of related arts teachers. That means that the school had to use $377k of its targeted funding on basic education costs. When you look at the targeted funding for Amidon-Bowen, you don’t get an honest picture of how much funding was truly supplemental and could be targeted to bolster student learning for students behind grade level. It makes it more difficult to have these conversations with DC leadership if DCPS isn’t straightforward about what is covered in various buckets of money. The bare minimum staff needed for a school to operate should be under the SBB base weight and not under targeted funds, period, so that we can have honest conversations about how much funds are truly supplemental and whether these targeted resources are sufficient for the work at-hand.
- DCPS continues to use self-contained special education classrooms as an unfunded mandate. For example, DCPS opened three new CES (autism) classrooms at Amidon-Bowen this year, despite none of the staff having any relevant trainings for serving students in these classrooms. The school had to spend over $50k of its budget on training for staff so that staff would be adequately prepared. Self-contained classrooms are DCPS run, and DCPS should cover all of the costs of these classrooms and not push these costs down to the school. DCPS’s posture for these self-contained classrooms should be, how can I set up these students for success, and not, how can I do the bare minimum and push the costs and burden down to the individual schools.
- Given that teachers haven’t had a new contract within 3 years, DCPS continues to tell the story that DC is a toxic place for teachers to work. It is beyond time to change that narrative. Let’s start with a teacher contract.
Along those lines, schools have been short-staffed since before the pandemic, and the pandemic has made it worse. Schools can’t find enough paraprofessionals and substitutes to hire, in part because the pay for these positions is embarrassingly low. Staffing shortages means that students are shifted around to other classrooms during the day when teachers are absent, and no learning happens; so learning loss is happening every day, and nothing is being done about it. A recent education study found that incentive pay worked to recruit substitutes to work in underserved schools in Chicago Public Schools. DCPS should implement policies to ensure there is equity for students, in terms of adequate staff coverage in underserved schools, and also equity for workers, in terms of having more reasonable wages for paraprofessionals and substitutes.