Laura Fuchs Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL

 Joint Public Hearing on B23-0046, the “At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” and B23-0239, the “School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”

Laura Fuchs, Chair of the Washington Teachers Union Committee on Political Education     

July 26, 2019

 We have said it before and clearly we will have to say it again: Budgets are moral documents and are the foundation upon which our education programming is built. It is simply not possible to achieve our ambitious and important equity goals without equitable funding. And as we have seen time and time again, equity cannot be achieved if left up solely to a Mayor and their central office team – it must be inclusive of the stakeholders and those who are actually implementing the policy – and we cannot operate in the dark.

For the past 10 years I have sat and sometimes chaired the Local School Advisory Team at HD Woodson HS. Thanks to the guidance of experts like Mary Levy and DC Fiscal Policy Institute analysts, I have pored over budget documents and attempted to figure out if HD Woodson was getting the money it was owed by law. DC Public Schools has consistently made that almost impossible, taking up hours and hours of time just trying to get the right number that we are owed by law that would be better spent strategizing what to do with the proper amount of money. This has allowed our students to be consistently shortchanged in At-Risk, Special Education, English Language Learner and General Education dollars (as has been proven for At-Risk funds by the DC Auditor) and forces our school to rely on inconsistent sources of staffing that remove most of our local school’s decision-making power.

This year HD Woodson had to cut 8 positions. We have now had funding for ~2 restored thanks to efforts made by the Council. But we still don’t fully know if we should have received those cuts in the first place or if we were short-changed on our general education funds. While DCPS Central office continues to expand their spending, our school has made consistent cuts to services we can provide our services that are far bigger than is warranted by our student population.

The “At-Risk School Funding Transparency” legislation has the right idea – we need to make sure the decision-making power, by law, is vested in the local school and that DCPS supports and amends the decisions made there in a clear and transparent manner. Providing a separate narrative and publishing that information will hopefully go a long way in sharing best practices and allowing all schools to do what is best for their student populations. We should expand the legislation to include Special Education and English Language Learner supplements as well since there are legal obligations that this money also supplement and not supplant schools’ comprehensive staffing.

The “School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment” legislation does not address the major issues that we experience at the local school level, nor does it address the even larger issues faced by teachers in the Public Charter sector who have even less access to information and advisory power than those of us serving in DCPS. I urge the council to seriously amend the legislation before considering its passage.

The way that the legislation asks DCPS to categorize their spending by grade levels served will just give DCPS Central Office the door to further obfuscate what they are doing and its impacts. When you have over 800 people in a centralized location they have a lot of time to justify their existence while teachers actually working with students lose their jobs. There will be no additional information of use – especially if past documentation efforts by DCPS are any indication of how seriously they take these reporting requirements.

We need a clear definition of what makes a Central Office employee and then we need to hold DCPS to the law of only spending 5% or less on those activities. We are at least three times above the legal limit right now. We need more information on external contracts. I went through the spreadsheet submitted to the Council and it took hours of time to organize the information into useful pieces and I found many contracts that ostensibly did the same thing but were purchased from different offices from different companies. Either they were actually doing the same thing, or the reporting requirements are so general that we don’t actually know what was being paid for. On top of this there was zero justification as to whether these contracts – many that have gone on for years – have actually achieved the “results” that we are paying for.

I want to caution against assuming a buzzword like “student based budgeting” will automatically fix our budgeting problems. Many systems, like Chicago, are trying to move to our model because it actually provides more stability and makes school budgets less dependent on enrollment numbers and instead focuses on what the base-line level of what every school should have no matter what. The problem we have in DC Public Schools is that DCPS is not following its own policies. Changing the policy without some mechanism to actually make DCPS follow it will not change the problem. Enforcing the Comprehensive Staffing Model and actually following it would mean every school, even the small ones with fluctuating enrollments, would have everything they need to provide a robust education for their students. What we need to add is a more inclusive process for creating that baseline, mechanisms to clearly ensure that schools are getting what they are owed in that model, and then making sure that additional funds for specialized programming, Special Education, English Language Learners and At Risk students are added on top of that model.

DCPS Needs to follow the DC Auditors recommendations and keep one set of books that is open and completely transparent. What a principal sees at their school level should be the same thing an LSAT chair sees and should be the same thing the Council sees. We waste endless amounts of time with multiple books where nobody knows what is true and what isn’t – even the people who are tasked and paid very well for creating them.

Ultimately though none of this will matter if DCPS is allowed to flout the law with zero consequences. The Council needs to use its budgetary authority to force DCPS to follow the laws that are being written by this body. My suggestion – hold the pay of all Central Office employees until the requirements are verifiably met. We have allowed countless students to be underserved, educators who work directly with students to lose their livelihoods and an expanding “achievement” and resource gap under the watch of mayoral control. Enough is enough. This body took on the role of the school board when they empowered the Mayor and removed all authority from the school board. This is on you as much as it is on the Mayor.

Lastly, we need to talk about Charter Schools. DC Charter Schools are some of the least transparent in the nation. Everything I am talking about with DCPS – we don’t even know how much worse it is at some of our LEAs in this city because they don’t have to report what they are doing with their funds. When we do get glimpses they are extremely troubling. The current Transparency legislation does not do enough to allow multiple stakeholders – especially teachers – serving on the board. It is not enough to subject Boards to the open meetings act, we must also allow the public to FOIA the schools if they are not being forthcoming.

We need to have a common language on costs and we need to report it across all of our LEAs. This is something I worked with the SBOE’s ESSA Task Force and I urge you to assist OSSE in making this a reality.

Mary Levy Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL

 Joint Public Hearing on B23-0046, the “At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” and B23-0239, the “School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”

Mary Levy      July 26, 2019

As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a long-ago DCPS parent, I have spent almost 40 years dealing with DCPS budget transparency, including annual analyses of system-wide and local school budgets.  After study of the two bills that are the subject of today’s hearing, I urge that the Council (1) pass the At-Risk School Funding Transparency legislation and (2) rework the School Based Budgeting and Transparency, which as written has multiple practical problems.

The At-Risk Funding bill is particularly good in requiring a narrative description of the use of at-risk funds and in going back to the original at-risk legislation’s directive that DCPS plans be formulated by the principal and LSAT at each school, subject to review and justified change by the Chancellor.

As to the School Based Budgeting bill, essentially we lack sufficient understanding of what the questions are that transparency is to answer and how its mandates are to be enforced.  It needs to be considered in tandem with Bill 23-199, which covers the same ground and more with important additional transparency provisions and application of FOIA to charter schools.  Specifics:

First, the School Based Budgeting bill includes some useful proposals:

  • The sec. 3(c) change in DCPS pupil count to account for enrollment increase in the course of the school year;
  • The sec. 4 requirement that meetings of public charter school boards of trustees be open;
  • The sec. 2 general idea that some DC government agency should create a chart of accounts with standard definitions enabling full disclosure of “administrative” (unfortunately undefined) costs, and comparability across schools and sectors. However, this major task with major implications and potential for unintended consequences needs much further development.

Second, no matter what the questions are, there will be no meaningful transparency unless:

  • The Council stops the practice of DCPS keeping two inconsistent, non-comparable, and confusing sets of books for local school budgets, i.e., those given to schools and posted on the DCPS website versus those in the city’s financial system, including the Mayor’s budget submission. The mess this makes was exemplified in the budget oversight hearing where DCPS witnesses and Council members were operating out of altogether different numbers.
  • The Council ceases to accept the DCPS definition of “central administration” as limited to the highest management levels plus business services, while allowing DCPS to treat the remaining central accounts as a mash of services directly benefiting students (e.g., special ed therapists, athletic trainers, security guards, utilities) and of costs of offices where hundreds of employees tell teachers and principals how to do their jobs. These are very different functions.

 

Third, the amendments to DC Code § 38–2907.01[1] obviously intend to make central office costs and local school budgets transparent, but the attempt is not successful:

  • “Central administration,” as currently defined leaves most central office costs unaccounted for, and not separated from costs directly benefitting students.
  • Attributing “central administration” expenditures to each of the many categories of the UPSFF is a waste of effort. It can be done automatically but since these functions almost all apply equally to each student, it will produce no useful information.  Separating central office expenditures that directly benefit students and then identifying how much goes to each school would be useful and important, but that is not what the bill proposes.
  • Local school budgets in both different sets of books, have considerable, though different detail in many regards, but mysteries exist: (1) general ed teacher allocation is a black box; (2) special education personnel allocation is a black box; (3) many schools receive local funding outside the Comprehensive Staffing Model, but there is no explanation of why some receive money for these programs and some do not.

 

Finally, there seems little point to enacting any of this legislation unless the Council provides for enforcement.  The DC Code already includes numerous mandates intended to provide budget transparency for DCPS that both DCPS and the Mayor ignore, without consequence or accountability.  A list follows:

  • 38–2903(b), the algorithm determining the UPSFF foundation level, including variables for personnel costs. The Mayor’s report does not include the variables.  There is no indication of why the amount proposed is what it is.
  • 38–2907.01(a)(2), limiting DCPS annual local school budget decreases to 5%.
  • 38–2907.01(b)(3), requiring DCPS at-risk funds to supplement, not supplant all other funds to which a school is entitled.
  • 38–2831(a), requiring the DCPS budget submission to include FTEs with job titles by program and revenue source.
  • 38–2831(b)(3)(A), requiring the DCPS budget submission to identify funds not allocated directly to a school or central administration that support costs provided at the school level or directly to students.
  • 38–2831(c), requiring the Chancellor to make available on the DCPS website a detailed estimate of funds required to operate DCPS for the ensuring year no later than 21 days before the Mayor’s budget submission.
  • 38–2831(d), requiring that the Mayor’s budget submission include the compilations of Schedule A positions and DCPS employees as of the preceding March 31.

[1] Sec. 3, the second subsection (b) as posted in LIMS, following subsection (c).

Iris Bond Gill Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

Testimony of Iris Bond Gill

Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education Thursday, June 26, 2019

Contact: iris007gill@gmail.com 

Good Afternoon Councilmembers. My name is Iris Bond Gill and I’m here to testify about the School Based Budgeting Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and the At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019.

As a parent who’s been actively engaged on my school’s LSAT, I can see the merits of both bills. They aim to provide a more detailed understanding than we have currently of how at-risk funds are being used. However, the At-Risk funding bill does not go far enough. The Office of the DC Auditor just released a report finding that, far too often, the funds for at-risk students were used to meet other school needs. The DC Council should require that at-risk funds be supplemental as they were intended to be and and never used to supplant other district and federal funds AND that the reporting on how at-risk funds are budgeted and spent be clear and consistent across all schools.

And I’ll add that there is currently a line that if charter LEAs do not properly comply with reporting, the Public Charter School Board can withhold future at-risk funding. The authority to withhold funds should sit with the state education agency (osse) or with this Council, not with PCSB.

I support the requirement in the School-based Budgeting Transparency Act that all publicly funded schools comply with the Open Meetings Act. One area where the bill falls short is in uniform compliance with the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA. Right now only DCPS can be FOIAd. However, charter compliance with FOIA is already in place in 39 other states, including those with some of the largest charter sectors. If you talk to charter school teachers, parents, and the general public, there’s broad agreement that this transparency measure is needed. FOIA is an important backstop when there isn’t enough transparency, when communication has failed, and when the health and safety of students is jeopardized, such as the issues you heard earlier around sexual assaults in our schools.

I’ve heard that making PCSB the entity subject to FOIA will work just as well. It won’t. PCSB will never collect all of the information from the LEAs and it would be redundant to try. I’ve also heard that making charter LEAs subject to FOIA will take precious time away from teaching. Well, as a charter school parent, I expect my school to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time– and they do. I expect them to be able to teach AND administer statewide testing. I expect them to teach AND manage enrollment and audits. I expect them to teach AND manage federal grant and reporting requirements and on and on. Essentially, we require schools to teach while remaining compliant with the law as publicly funded schools. The occasional FOIA is no different.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today.

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – Smoscosomills (at) hotmail (dot) com

Public Hearing on B23-0046, the “At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”  And B23-0239, the “School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”

Committee on Education – June 26, 2019 at 10:00AM, JAWB 412

I’m Sandra Moscoso, a Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan parent, School Without Walls parent and HSA President, and Secretary of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization. I support the At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and the suggestions for strengthening offered by fellow parent Danica Petroshius. I support the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019, but recognize it does not go far enough in ensuring students and families have access to critical information collected by schools. I join fellow DC families, teachers, and partners like EmpowerEd in strongly supporting the School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019, and look forward to its hearing in October.

Today, I want to focus on why all publicly funded schools must comply with FOIA. Professionally, I have spent almost a decade working on issues of government transparency, helping and learning from public institutions in Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub Saharan Africa. And while I have had the honor of working with colleagues and clients fully committed to transparency, I have also heard every excuse in the book about why public information shouldn’t be shared with citizens. All of those excuses are being murmured in DC and need to be addressed. I will share a few from a list of top 10 excuses put together in 2014 by the Guelph, Ontario City Clerk.

  1. We have data?!?!

We’ve been asked by city officials, including members of council to identify data we want. There is an obsession with itemizing families’ and citizens’ request for information and data. There is also an obsession with evaluating the merits of the information we might want about our children, our families, and our communities. While any given day, families might be asking how their students’ at-risk funds are spent, or whether their child’s testing below proficiency are a one off or represent a school wide need, there are data and information out there today that we might never imagine we’d want. Recent examples include information about lead levels in drinking water and playground turf; or the unthinkable like incidents of sexual misconduct by adults which have hit close to home, in my own daughter’s class. Freedom of information is the most powerful tool families have to support our educators, find opportunities to solve problems, and most importantly, protect our children. Besides, if it relates to our children, our families, our communities, and our taxes fund the work, guess what, it’s our data.

  1. It’s not perfect…it’s not even good…

I agree that we would not want to work in an environment where every word we commit to paper can be scrutinized and there are exemptions in place for this. The reality is that when families are looking for information, it’s to fill in gaps that stand in the way of supporting our students. No one is looking for typos, grammatical errors, or perfection. And if we find something wrong that leads an agency to correct data, then you’re welcome. More eyes on data means higher quality of information.

  1. Its a security risk or data privacy risk! 

This is a very valid concern and I’m glad that agencies and LEAs are taking this seriously. OCTO’s Chief Data Officer, for example, is doing good work around developing data privacy policies, which I hope everyone in this room and online will weigh in on. Furthermore, there are FOIA exemptions in place under DC Code 2-534 which also protect privacy. Privacy should not stand in the way of informed communities.

  1. Someone would need a professional degree just to understand it.

This excuse is not only condescending, but it wrong. Who better to understand and provide ground truth and context to data, than the real data owners.

  1. This is going to be soooooo much work – I don’t have the time!

This is everyone’s favorite urban legend, when in fact, research by EmpowerEd shows that in schools in the 39 states where charter schools comply with FOIA, no school polled received more than 5 FOIA requests in a single year. As our friends from the DC Open Government Coalition remind us, freedom of information compliance is the cost of doing business when your business is funded by taxpayers. 

  1. We already sell it…oh, we don’t?  Well…we should!

Well, this is a good question. It depends on how you look at it. Publicly funded but privately run schools have access to data and information. That information is leveraged for what the Public Charter School Board refers to as market share (I prefer to call them students). Public funds used to build public schools, which generate information and data. Isn’t this information then owned by the public? It’s our information and we have a right to it.

  1. We don’t know what “they” will find…

We know what we will find. Information and data about our students, which can enable us to protect them, and better collaborate with schools to educate them. We will also find our data, because it’s ours.

  1. If we give it to them they will just want more.

This may be true, but what schools get out of it is higher quality data, the opportunity to leverage communities to support students, and potential efficiencies. If we want more, it’s because we are engaged and want to be partners, or because something is wrong that needs to be addressed. We may also want more because, after all, it’s our data.

  1. It will be twisted around to make us look bad!

This may be true and it’s a risk, but looking bad is a small price to pay when we have lives at stake. The risk to student safety, risk of inadequate resources, risk of failing students in their pursuit of education is much much greater.

  1. No, it’s mine and you can’t have it!

This is not true, and we all know it. Our taxes, our families, our communities, our information.

Thank you for your time.

Valerie Jablow Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

I am Valerie Jablow, a Ward 6 DCPS parent. As the subject of this hearing is transparency in our schools, I wanted to share some recent examples of how our schools and their governance are not transparent:

–All videos of charter board meetings before 2018 are gone, with no back-ups. For some meetings, there are just notes, not official transcripts.[1]

–At risk fund reports for charter schools do not account for all schools, and uses of the money appear wildly different and not always appropriate.[2]

–FOIA requests made clear that the executive director of the charter board urged the schools his agency regulates to lobby against the discipline bill.[3]

–FOIA requests also revealed that education leaders privately planned a middle school at Banneker–well before the council’s decision on a middle school for Shaw there.[4]

–There are no public records of visits to the mayor and council, while an ed reform-supported group (not registered as a lobbying organization BTW) buys council members and staff breakfast and lunch every year.[5]

–More than a quarter of all charter board meetings between October 18, 2017, and October 31, 2018 were closed to the public.[6]

–Teacher turnover within our schools is only self-reported at best–and not accurately.[7]

–Chavez and Monument charter schools closed without parents or teachers involved in the decisions,[8] while Mundo Verde blocked parents from entering and hired a consultant to intimidate unionizing teachers.[9]

—Sexual abuse in one school’s aftercare exposed lack of OSSE oversight in vetting aftercare employees elsewhere.[10]

I have documented many more recent examples in my written testimony.[11]

This chart,[12] created by EmpowerEd, shows in red just a few areas where the public has no access to data or decisionmaking in our schools—DCPS on the left, charters on the right.

I appreciate how the two bills that are the subject of this hearing explore budget transparency (specifically with respect to at risk funds). As some of my examples show, this is long overdue.

But my examples also show the urgency of making this effort at transparency much stronger, especially as only one of the bills mentions the Open Meetings Act (OMA) applying to charter schools, and nothing about FOIA.

FOIA and OMA are the most basic, first steps in school transparency. Given that almost half of our students attend charter schools, FOIA and OMA for all our schools ensures all DC families have equal access to information.[13]

Ironically, the one bill that would ensure FOIA applies to all publicly funded schools is not part of this hearing! That bill is 0199, which provides for charter school

–Transparency in contracts greater than $25,000;

–Complying with FOIA and the Open Meetings Act; and

–Teachers and students represented on boards.

FOIA for all our schools is not a big ask: Last year, DCPS and the charter board fielded less than 300 FOIA requests. The cost for FOIA requests in the entire DC government was $3 million out of a $14 BILLION budget.

Please take the first step of transparency by ensuring that all the provisions of 0199 are included in the bills that are the subject of this hearing today.

Thank you.

——————-

[1] The destruction of videos was communicated to me by Tomeika Bowden on April 29, 2019, in response to a question from me about being unable to access the video of the June 2017 charter board meeting, which I had once viewed. I have never seen any public announcement of the video destruction. Although Ms. Bowden said there are transcripts available, this meeting has only notes, not a transcript.

[2] For instance, on the most recent report available on the charter board website, for SY 18-19 (https://www.dcpcsb.org/sites/default/files/At-Risk%20Funding%20Report%2018-19%201-22-2019%20NW.pdf), the entry for Digital Pioneers mentions a $20,000 expenditure for 5 uniforms.

[3] See the email here: https://twitter.com/VJablow/status/1118491788417884161

[4] https://educationdc.net/2019/04/17/what-is-the-plan-for-banneker-high-schools-current-building-or-conflicts-of-interest-and-the-middle-school-program/

[5] https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/pavefood.pdf

[6] There were 7 closed meetings in that time, representing 27% of the total in that period. By contrast, there were no closed meetings between March 2012 and September 2017.

[7] The September 2018 report by Mary Levy for the state board of education showed this.

[8] See here for Chavez: https://thedcline.org/2019/05/20/christian-herr-with-our-school-closing-in-june-chavez-prep-educators-deserve-adequate-severance/

See here for Monument:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/leadership-of-troubled-dc-public-boarding-school-votes-to-close-facility-at-end-of-academic-year/2019/06/05/c98a42aa-86f2-11e9-a870-b9c411dc4312_story.html?utm_term=.dd423b9dfc25

[9] For more information about both efforts at Mundo Verde, see

https://twitter.com/dcacts/status/1121554429545787392

and here:

https://twitter.com/Ruth4Schools/status/1126822629803986944

[10] https://educationdc.net/2019/06/17/documenting-addressing-sexual-misconduct-in-dcs-publicly-funded-schools/

[11] Here are some more recent examples, all documented here: https://educationdc.net/2019/06/25/fear-of-foia/

–Lead has been found in yet more school playground surfaces—but testing was not done, nor initially reported, by any city agency.

–Who owns the building of St Coletta’s—paid for in large part by DC taxpayer money–is unclear.

–Discovery in a lawsuit made clear that the executive director of the charter board mocked the suicide prevention act–with the assistance of a private charter advocacy group.

–What control individual DCPS principals have over their own budgets and buildings appears determined by politics as well as power, with DCPS keeping two sets of books.

–The expansion of Washington Latin was not made known publicly until its application with the charter board in April—despite having been announced in a blog a year earlier.

–According to investigative journalists, DC schoolchildren have been subjected to unusual, harsh, and detrimental treatment, including seclusion and restraints and restricted bathroom passes.

–Also according to investigative journalists, there’s an ongoing grading and graduation scandal at Somerset that remains unexamined by city officials.

–A member of the charter board, Naomi Shelton, recently took employment with KIPP, which appears to violate two sections of DC code.

[12] https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/72d508_793eaf468cbd44c9bccf742fc0dad0ee.pdf

[13] FOIA and OMA are just a start. Here is a list of other items that would give transparency and equity to DC families:

Students, teachers, and parents part of all school decisions & boards

  • All contracts with schools available
  • Teacher retention data verified and available
  • Teacher experience data verified and available
  • The amount and use of marketing money in our schools.
  • Data for lead in water testing
  • Data about lead in playgrounds

 

Suzanne Wells Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Joint Public Hearing

At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019

and

School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

            Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.  My name is Suzanne Wells.  I am the president of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization.  Both bills that are the subject of today’s hearing are intended to address important issues regarding providing meaningful services to at-risk youth, and greater understanding of how school budgets are allocated.

The At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act shines a spotlight on how at-risk funds are used by schools, and seeks to ensure the at-risk funds are used in ways that are expected to improve student achievement.  Much of the impetus for this bill was the recognition that at-risk funds were being used for purposes not directly related to supporting at-risk youth.

I believe the reasons at-risk funds often don’t appear to support at-risk youth are two-fold.  First, it shows how tight school budgets are, and the schools often don’t have sufficient dollars to fund the staffing positions they need or want to provide for their students.  Second, research-based evidence as to what will be impactful in raising performance among at-risk youth is limited, and often not available to and/or considered by schools as budget decisions are made.

Last school year, I served on the Eliot-Hine Middle School Local School Advisory Team (LSAT).  We had at-risk funds, and we considered research compiled by Betsy Wolf, an assistant professor at the Center for Research and Reform in Education at Johns Hopkins University.  Dr. Wolf’s review of the research found technology approaches have shown promise in being impactful for middle grades.  Our LSAT discussed whether we should use at-risk funds to purchase computers and software for small-group instruction for at-risk students.  Or should we use the funds to hire a reading specialist or fund some type of social emotional learning?  Our choices weren’t clear cut, and the only thing that was clear was that we didn’t have enough funding to do all we thought should be done to support all the students.

I encourage the Council to consider whether the At-Risk School Funding Bill could include requirements for some entity to compile research informed best practices for improving at-risk student achievement so this information can be shared with local schools when budgets are developed.

While I believe it is important to measure whether the at-risk funding is supporting improved student achievement among at-risk youth, I am concerned about the provision in the bill that requires the Chancellor to produce an annual report that shows over the previous five years whether the at-risk funding has improved performance among at-risk youth.  I fear this will devolve into excessive scrutiny of the at-risk youth’s test scores as a way to justify budget choices, and won’t actually help the at-risk youth the bill is intended to help.

Regarding the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Act, I will defer to others with more budget expertise than I have to provide comments on budget transparency aspects of the bill.  I applaud the bill’s requirement that the Board of Trustees for each public charter school must comply with the Open Meetings Act.

What the bill lacks is a requirement that the public charter schools comply with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).  FOIA plays an important role in keeping our government transparent and accountable, and has been used to expose a wide range of government misconduct and waste.  Without FOIA there is a trend towards secrecy.  We live in an open society, and no fear of burden on the part of the pubic charter schools outweighs the benefits of keeping them transparent and accountable.  I encourage the Council to add to the bill a requirement that the individual public charter schools comply with FOIA.

Danica Petroshius Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

Testimony of Danica Petroshius

Hearing on Transparency

June 26, 2019

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am Danica Petroshius, parent of two children at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan (CHML).

I strongly support the At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and have attached specific ideas for strengthening it. I also support the School-Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act and the Public School Transparency Amendment At of 2019.  Together, all of these bills will move us a step closer to transparency in our education system.

Today I testify on behalf of the over 300 parents and community members who signed a letter asking for transparency around sexual abuse – and some of those parents are here with me today.

Almost everything I have had to testify about over the past 8 years as a parent in DCPS has boiled down to lack of transparency: hiding data on lead in the water, hiding data on crumbling school assessments, preventing parents access to basic meetings and activities; lack of equity in access to FOIA and opaque budgeting practices.

But the bottom fell out of transparency 2 weeks ago. On June 8th, we at CHML were told that an employee of Springboard was removed for misconduct. On June 10th we were told by email that “no Springboard student was involved.” Only on June 11th – when WAMU broke the story – did we find out a student minor at our school was the victim of sexual abuse. And, we found out that Springboard ran programs in 21 sites across DC and had no record of its background checks and was therefore in breach of contract. On June 14, Fox 5 let us know that there was a second allegation against the same person.

For parents, panic and fear set in; we hugged our children and we consoled each other.

We asked city leaders for answers to what happened, why communication failed and what policies are in place to protect students.

We began to research and found out:

  • There are at least 13 charter and DCPS schools with serious sexual assault cases since November 2014 – this is not a one-off, this is a system problem
  • There is no one system-wide safety policy for all kids in every district in DC
  • There is no centralized data system for tracking background checks across systems
  • There is no regular monitoring and compliance to ensure the safety of students
  • We wrote a letter to city leaders on June 12 asking for answers to our questions
  • We shared our research and questions in addition to policy solutions (you have all of this in attachments)

The response from the city completely lacks transparency, urgency and care.

  • There has been no answer to our letter to city leaders, only vague emails that only lead to more questions (I have annotated those emails in the attachments)
  • We have had no action from Council to demand answers on our specific situation, no call for a hearing, no response to our recommended solutions beyond the School Safety Act
  • This year Council did start to improve systems through the School Safety Act which asks districts to implement policies and trainings over the next 2 years, and for OSSE to provide models. Two years is too long to wait.
  • The School Safety Act is a start, but it does not improve and expand data collection and reporting; it does not centralize reporting, monitoring and compliance; it does not ensure all children have the same level of protections; and it does not mandate a full review of our system to ensure our city agencies implement the gold standard for protecting students.
  • There are pending DCPS FOIAs because there is no transparency. Yet parents in charter schools where Springboard operated cannot FOIA their districts because we have no law to protect those students when transparency fails.

The system of transparency and accountability is broken. We should not have to write letters, testify and go to the media to get answers on the most fundamental policy of protecting the safety of our children. We cannot move to the real work of teaching and learning if we aren’t first and fundamentally doing all we can to protect our youth.

We must move the bills being considered forward. In addition, we also must act urgently to implement full transparency in our education system – there is no time to lose.

If our education system, led by the Mayor, embraced transparency then

  • our communities would understand as soon as the MPD investigation allowed, what happened and how our children were protected
  • it would be easy to find the policies and practices in place to protect our children
  • every child would be fully protected in the same way in every school regardless of being in DCPS or a charter school, and every parent would have the same access to protections to get key information about their children through FOIA
  • would be easy to maintain, track and upkeep records of all safety procedures in one centralized location so every parent – regardless of school or sector – can be sure their children are safe.

If our education leaders embraced transparency, we would have trust.

Please work with us to achieve full transparency for all children.


Supplemental documents, recommendations research, timelines:

Kent Withycombe Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

WLC

Kent Withycombe, Education Justice Project Director

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs 

Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia

  For the June 26, 2019 Joint Public Hearing on:

(1) B23-0239:  School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019; and

(2) B23-0046:  At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019

I.               Introduction

Thank you Council Chairman Mendelson, Education Committee Chairman Grosso, and all Councilmembers for this opportunity to testify.  I am Kent Withycombe, from the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, where I work to advance education justice in DC.

Since the late 1970s, the Committee has been committed to fighting for equity in the D.C. schools.  In particular we have focused our advocacy, particularly for families of color that come from neighborhoods that we as a city have historically deprived of resources and support.[1]

We are committed to ensuring every student’s right to an excellent public education.   Budget, planning and transparency issues are inherently civil rights issues, as they all must be done with a keen eye towards actually achieving equity and providing quality opportunities for students in all of our public schools.

Community input is a critical component of ensuring that DCPS and the public charter school LEAs are accountable to the students and parents that they serve.  Transparency into the operations of these schools and how they make decisions about budgeting and planning allows community members to provide meaningful input.  We support the intent of many provisions in the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act, as it intends to give more local control over budgets to Principals and their school communities, and it applies DC’s open meetings laws to all public schools.   However, we recommend that the law also require each Local Education Agency to comply with the District of Columbia’s Freedom of Information Act.   We also support and urge the Council to pass the At Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act provisions, as it also gives more local control over budgeting to schools, and it will increase transparency and accountability to ensure that DC public schools are using At Risk funds for the direct benefit of their students who are living in acute poverty.

II.  The School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019

Access to information by advocates, journalists, school communities and voters strengthens the District’s schools, improves policy and practice, and helps expose misconduct, waste, and inefficiency.  Investigations into school operations demonstrate the value of subjecting all of DC’s public schools to open meetings and public records requirements.

We learned, for example, from the press, advocates, and teachers that DCPS attendance and graduation rates at Ballou and other schools were actually far below what they were initially reported to be, exposing deep inequities in the quality of education that some students were receiving.

Conversely, at Chavez Prep Public Charter school, which is not currently subject to open meeting laws, teachers, parents and students were kept in the dark about school finances, the plans to consolidate schools, and then the ultimate decision to close Chavez Prep.  The community had little opportunity for input or recourse.

The School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act will achieve better transparency for stakeholders and policymakers to evaluate schools and the quality and equity of educational experiences that those schools provide.  It will provide opportunities for communities to monitor their schools and provide input at key junctures.

However, the Act does not go far enough, and we are particularly concerned that this Act does not require charter school LEAs to comply with the D.C.’s Freedom of Information Act.  This mechanism is necessary to ensure meaningful public accountability.  This bill should require that all LEAs comply with FOIA, just as Councilmember Allen’s Transparency Bill does.   Making charter LEAs subject to the same FOIA requirements that DCPS is subject to is critical, as it will increase transparency and accountability to school communities and build trust.   Ensuring broad public access to the same types of information across all of our public schools is key in understanding, assessing, and closing the persistent achievement and opportunity gaps among students, particularly with respect to students of color, our At-Risk student populations, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners.  The National Research Council’s 2015 Evaluation of the Public Schools of the District of Columbia repeatedly emphasized this point.[2]

DC’s exemption of charter schools from public accountability laws like FOIA is out of step with national norms.  National charter organizations endorse compliance with public records requests as Best Practices.[3]  Moreover, representatives of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools told the Washington Post that DC’s charter sector was unusual in not being subject to public records requests as compared to the rest of the country.[4]

In fact, 39 states require all schools to comply with public records requests.  Research by In the Public Interest found that this vast majority of states, including both Maryland and Virginia, require operators or schools to hold open board meetings or post minutes of board meetings, and to respond to requests for public records.[5]  Most recently, California adopted this year a measure that would subject all of California’s 1,300 charter schools to open meetings laws and public records requests.

While the PCSB recently made some transparency improvements, they do not go far enough to provide the kind and variety of types of information that parents, school communities and advocates need to create true accountability.  Nor do these changes provide the depth and breadth of information that would be available through FOIA requests.[6]  We cannot rely on PCSB to be the gatekeepers of information for publicly funded charter schools.

Responding to FOIA requests should not be a significant financial or time burden for charter LEAs.  The DC Public Charter School Board has not been inundated with FOIA requests.  Between October 1, 2017, and September 30, 2018, the DC Public Charter School Board received 74 requests for information, with 59 processed within 15 days, and the rest in more than 16 days.[7]  The total cost for the PCSB to comply with FOIA requests during that year was $22,600.  For smaller charter LEAs who need assistance in responding, the bill can follow the lead of Councilmember Allen’s Public School Transparency Act and direct the PCSB to assist Charter LEAs when needed in responding to FOIA requests.

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee supports the School Based Budgeting provisions that will give Principals and their school communities more autonomy to allocate their local dollars and the ability to build their budgets based on their students’ needs, rather than DCPS Central Office mandates.

This Act can significantly improve transparency over two areas of expenditures that are currently obscured in school budgets.  First, the Act should require charter schools to disclose all contracts rather than only contracts for more than $25,000.  The current formulation allows schools and contractors to divide up contracts to avoid disclosure.  For example, a $48,000 contract for goods and services could be split into $24,000 for goods, and $24,000 for services, and neither would have to be disclosed under the proposed legislation.

Second, the bill should require charter schools to publicly report employee salaries.  Councilmember Allen’s bill requires publishing all charter teacher salaries, as DCPS is required to do.  At a minimum, charter schools should disclose st year salaries, 5th year, 10th year salaries and average teacher salaries, so that teachers will have reliable compensation information to drive their choices about where to work and so that parents and education advocates will be able to compare each year how much schools and LEAs are spending on teachers versus administrators and other expenses. [8]

Overall, the Committee supports the following provisions and strongly encourages that the Council strengthen the remainder of the proposed legislation:

  1. Require both the Public Charter School Board and individual charter schools to comply with the Administrative Procedures Act, including the Open Meetings Act.[9]
  2. Urge all public schools to use similar definitions and line-items in their budgeting.
  3. Require charter schools to publicize not just their budgets, but also their expenditures.
  4. Require charter schools to delineate how At-Risk Funds are being spent.
  5. Require that the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) publish school budget expenditure information in a way that ensures the public can compare expenditures by LEA and by school in a clear manner.[10]
  6. Require DCPS to use a school-based budgeting model to fund schools, as opposed to the comprehensive staffing model, and submit that to the DC Council.

II.              At Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act

The Washington Lawyers’ Committee is in favor of the At -Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act.   Reliable, targeted and adequate At-Risk funding is a significant way to improve education equity in the public schools of DC.   Schools need an At-Risk supplement that is fully funded to meet the needs of the community.  The current At-Risk supplement, about $2,400 per student, is 40 percent lower than the Deputy Mayor for Education’s 2013 Education Adequacy Study recommendations.[11]   In addition to the improvements incorporated by the proposed legislation, the Council should also increase the amount of the per student At-Risk funding.

The transparency and accountability provisions will help to achieve three important equity goals:

  1. Giving principals and school communities more voice in how At-Risk funds are used;
  2. Requiring the collection of information on how At-Risk funds are used that will assist in evaluating the impacts of this funding on student outcomes; and
  3. Ensuring that At-Risk funds are used to supplement, rather than supplant, school-based spending and services, which is a persistent problem that both the DC Auditor and Mary Levy have studied and reported in recent years.[12]

The Act accomplishes these goals by shifting spending decisions for At-Risk funding from DC Public Schools’ Central Office to principals and school communities, as principals must consult with Local School Advisory Teams on how at-risk funds should be used.

It also adds new reporting requirements for all public schools receiving At-Risk funds so that parents, the public and the Council can better track how the At-Risk funds are used and if they are effective at improving educational outcomes for At-Risk students at that school.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

In summary, the Committee supports the intent of the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act, as it intends to give more local control over budgets to Principals and their school communities, and it increase transparency into the operation of our public charter schools.  We recommend that the law also require each Local Education Agency in DC to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests, just as DCPS is required to do.

We also support and urge the Council to pass the At Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act, as it also gives more local control over budgeting to schools, and it will increase transparency and accountability to ensure that DC public schools are using At Risk funds for the direct benefit of their students who are living in acute poverty.

[1] The Washington Lawyers’ Committee was founded in 1968 to address civil rights violations, racial injustice and poverty-related issues in our community through litigation and other advocacy.  The Committee has a long history of working to address racial and other inequity in the DC public schools, which includes its Parent Empowerment Program and its School Partnerships among law firms, businesses and more than 55 DCPS Title I schools.  We work closely with the private bar to bring litigation, pursue policy initiatives and support the academic enrichment and other goals of our DC public school communities.

[2]http://sites.nationalacademies.org/dbasse/BOTA/Evaluation_of_the_Public_Schools_of_the_District_of_Columbia/index.htm

Page 3-20:  Public access to comprehensive data across DCPS and all the charter LEAs in the city would support tracking and analysis of key information about schools and students, particularly with respect to students with disabilities and English-language learners.

Page 3-27; Conclusion 3-3:   Accountability to the public requires that information about administrative operations be transparent and easily accessible and that mechanisms be available for DC residents to express their preferences and concerns.

Pages 7-13 to 7-14;  Recommendation 3:  the primary objective of the District of Columbia for its public schools should be to address the serious and persistent disparities in learning opportunities and academic progress across student groups and wards by attending to [a]cessible, useful, and transparent data about D.C. public schools that are tailored to the diverse groups with a stake in the system.

[3] See Recommendations and Model Laws by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and the National Alliance of Public Charter Schoolshttps://www.qualitycharters.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/NACSA-Principles-and-Standards-2018-Edition.pdf ;

Click to access ModelLaw_P7-wCVR_20110402T222341.pdf

[4]  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/should-dc-charter-schools-follow-the-same-rules-as-traditional-campuses/2019/02/04/544cfb36-2644-11e9-81fd-b7b05d5bed90_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6ee9b1ee6afb

[5] https://www.inthepublicinterest.org/d-c-s-charter-school-transparency-policies-fall-short-of-nationwide-state-level-standards/

[6]  On March 18, board members voted on the DC Public Charter School Board’s new transparency changes, which would require individual schools to publish, among other things, which meetings are open to the public, board meeting minutes, the salaries of the five highest-compensated individuals, employee handbooks, and funding plans for at-risk students.  https://www.dcpcsb.org/public-comment/notice-new-policy-school-transparency-policy-reopened-public-comment . Some of the information that the DC Public Charter School Board is proposing that schools publish on their own websites is already available on the DC Public Charter School Board’s Transparency Hub, which launched last April.  https://www.dcpcsb.org/transparency

[7]  See The District’s Annual FOIA Report: https://os.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/os/page_content/attachments/FOAI%20FY18%20Annual%20Report%20updated%202.25.19.pdf

[8] https://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/city-desk/article/21045319/dc-charter-administrators-have-some-of-the-highest-school-salaries-in-town-their-teachers-some-of-the-lowest

[9] National charter organizations endorse compliance with open meetings laws as Best Practices.  See Recommendations and Model Laws by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.

[10] This gives parents and policymakers clear information and allows stakeholders to see across all schools how tax dollars are being spent.  This is done in several large school districts around the country, such as L.A Unified School District, which publishes the entire budget of every school (more than 500 schools) that advocates and school communities can compare and digest.  See http://projects.scpr.org/applications/lausd-2014-2015-school-by-school-budgets/  and  https://achieve.lausd.net/cms/lib/CA01000043/Centricity/Domain/123/25_2019-20%20Superintendents%20Final%20Budget%20Online%20Combined_nopg.pdf

[11] DC Deputy Mayor for Education’s 2013 Education Adequacy Study at 116-117.

[12] See http://dcauditor.org/report/budgeting-and-staffing-at-eight-dcps-elementary-schools/ at iii and 61-63; and  https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/dc-is-misspending-millions-of-dollars-intended-to-help-the-citys-poorest-students/2018/04/14/6006c02a-3788-11e8-9c0a-85d477d9a226_story.html?utm_term=.ba26c5171293

Liz Koening Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

Liz Koenig 

Public Testimony on B23-0046 and B23-0239

June 26, 2019

Good morning, my name is Liz Koenig, and I am a part of EmpowerEd’s teacher council.  I worked as a charter school teacher for seven years and sent my daughter to a charter school for the last two.  The School-Based Budgeting and Transparency Bill takes several important steps to increase trust in our public institutions, such as requiring charter schools to detail expenditures as well as budgets and requiring all schools to detail how they spend their at-risk funds.  Budget transparency is a worthy goal, and incredibly important against this city’s backdrop of underinvesting in the most marginalized communities.

The transparency aspect I wanted to focus on today is one that has been most important to me as a charter teacher and parent.  I enthusiastically support making charter school board meetings open to families, staff, and the public. This is an important step in connecting charter schools to the communities they serve in a way that is currently lacking.  While charter schools are granted great independence in how they run their schools, they should not be released from the obligations public schools have to their communities.

Beyond having open board meetings, I believe that teachers – who are closest to the students and who deliver the instruction every day – should be guaranteed representation on each charter school’s board.  Teacher voice is essential to strong, quality schools and, while it is prioritized and respected in many schools, it should be guaranteed in all.

Requiring charter schools to have open board meetings is an essential first step, but I believe it does not go far enough.  Charter schools should also be subject to DC’s Freedom of Information Act, giving the public the right to request documents relating to how these schools are spending public dollars.  Adding this piece of transparency to the Budgeting and Transparency Act would be complementary – charter schools have to report expenditures and citizens are given a tool to verify the details of these submissions.  The mechanics of how FOIA would work for charter schools still need to be, and can easily be, fleshed out with collaboration and creativity.

The reason all these measures are necessary is because accountability means more than test scores or a PMF rating.  Accountability means school leaders should be face-to-face with families and teachers when making decisions that will affect students’ education, most critically when those decisions are unpopular ones.  Accountability means school leaders should not be able to avoid answering for mistakes made – not when students and teachers have to live with the fallout. Accountability means that the public should be able to follow tax dollars from collection to payment, in greater detail than the broad strokes of an annual report or a 990.  

Accountability means that when the stakes are this high, you should not be able to hide behind the empty platitude, “trust us.”  Schools in both sectors are still falling short of the high standards we expect them to have in educating our city’s children. Transparency is an issue across sectors in DC.  There are committed advocates who work to hold DCPS accountable to their students every day, and I fully support their efforts. Those who wish to put the same democratic pressure on the charter system have fewer tools.  

While the PCSB is there to hold schools academically accountable, families and teachers care about more than just “outcomes,” a term which often just refers to two-dimensional test scores and graduation rates.  They care about the inputs and the processes of a school – How are students treated? How are teachers valued? What kind of social emotional and discipline practices are used? What is the school doing to protect its children from health and safety hazards, including predators?  Whose input is being solicited and listened to? As Councilmember Robert White has said, “Not everyone who has an interest in our schools has an interest in our students.” We need to empower those who have genuine interests in students’ safety and success.

Recent events have made this year feel like a watershed moment in this city for the future of our educational system.  There have been too many failures, too many hollow mandates, too many repetitions of our same inequitable history – in both charters and traditional public schools.  Asking for more transparency is absolutely not a condemnation of one type of education or another. Asking for transparency is asking for respect from our school leaders and city officials.