W6PSPO Meeting Notes – January 21, 2020

W6PSPO Meeting Notes

January 21, 2020

Stuart-Hobson MS

1. Laura Marks (Councilmember Charles Allen’s Chief of Staff), Anne Phelps (DC Budget Office Counsel and Senior Advisor) and Jonathan Antista (Deputy Director for Budget) shared an overview of the DC Council performance and budget oversight process. Please review the following documents:

2. Elizabeth Feinstein with Flavors Hook Kids DC presented information about the risks of flavored tobacco products, and current bills before the City Council that would end the sale of flavored e-cigarettes.

  • Most needed action now is to reach out to Councilmembers and ask: 1 for a markup of the bill to ban flavored tobacco to include the flavors of mint and menthol; 2 fund the bill. Take action here.
  • Learn about vaping-related issues at Contact Elizabeth Feinstone to get involved in local, DC advocacy.


Next W6PSPO Meeting: February 18, 2020, 6:30-8pm, Location TBD

Upcoming Events

From February 3-7, Teaching for Change’s DC Area Educators for Social Justice, local organizers, and community members will collaborate for the DC Area Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. The Black Livers Matter at School Week of Action seeks to improve the school experience for students of color. Throughout the week there are evening events and resources are offered to teach about structural racism, intersectional Black identities, Black history, and anti-racist movements. More information is available at

Upcoming Hearings – Sign up early to testify and double-check date here (dates change)

Nzinga Tull Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

Testimony before the DC Council Committee on Education

On B23-0199 (School Transparency)

By Nzinga Tull

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Good Afternoon Councilmembers,

My name is Nzinga Tull.  I am a native Washingtonian and a proud graduate of DCPS.  I was raised in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Ward 7 and have made my home as an adult in Ward 7’s Dupont Park.  I am doting and committed aunt to my niece and nephew who are 1st and 4th graders at Watkins. I am the play auntie to the children of a number of my closest friends. And, as a long-time Ward-7 resident, I am deeply invested in how the children in my neighborhood experience school. This investment was the driver for me to become active in the Ward 7 Education Council (W7EC), including serving as the Corresponding Secretary on the organization’s Executive Committee for the past 5 years.

I am grateful that the Council has continued to invest the time and attention to issues of transparency and accountability for public schools.  When I reflect on my experience as a DCPS student, one of the most powerful and meaningful aspects was the sense of school community.  I frequently overheard conversations between my parents or between my parents and my friends’ parents or between my teachers. And while different parents, teachers and administrators may have had different approaches to solving problems, two things were clear to me: (1) the grown-ups had a common goal doing what the best things for us kids and (2) the grown-ups believed that they could work with each other and within the system to figure out what those “best things” looked like. I don’t recall the terms “transparency” and “accountability” being used, but the spirit of transparency and accountability is what drove the sense of community that was so important: the belief that everyone was operating with the honorable intentions and that formal channels existed to investigate and create remedies if this belief was challenged.

Transparency is a crucial component of building and sustaining trust needed for healthy school communities. We simply cannot sustain improvement in the relationships between our children’s caretakers, our educators and our policy makers if we don’t normalize transparency and the insight and the oversight that come along with it.  We have to have policies in place that support a culture of community and mutual responsibility. The bills that we are addressing today have the power to move our school cultures in this direction by requiring charters to comply with the Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings, requiring open government training for charters, and requesting more information be published by the Charter authority on large contracts.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

Allyson Criner Brown Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019


Testimony of Allyson Criner Brown of Teaching for Change, to the D.C. Council Committee on Education and Committee of the Whole

Testimony on the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”

Written Testimony for public meeting held October 2, 2019

Presented by Allyson Criner Brown, MPA

Associate Director, Teaching for Change

1832 11 St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20001


Greetings Members of the Council:

My name is Allyson Criner Brown and I am the Associate Director of Teaching for Change, a DC-based nonprofit whose work is building social justice, starting in the classroom. I am also a resident of Ward 8 and a DCPS parent at Anne Beers Elementary in Ward 7. Additionally, I serve as the Teaching for Change representative to the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities (C4DC).

Teaching for Change is a D.C.-based nonprofit that has been building social justice starting in the classroom for going on 30 years and has a nationally recognized approach to family engagement called the Tellin’ Stories Project. We partner directly with seven Title I DC Public Schools that serve more than 2,500 students in Wards 1, 2, 4, and 5. Our other major projects that engage thousands of educators across the region – including hundreds of DCPS and D.C. charter school teachers from all eight wards – include our Teaching Central America Project, the Zinn Education Project (teaching people’s history), Teach the Beat (bringing go go into pre-K through 12 classrooms) and the D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice network.

As I have already mentioned, we partner with and for years have directly served both DCPS and D.C. charter school communities and educators. In deciding whether to testify on this bill, we looked to our core beliefs, which include:

  • We believe that schools belong to the community and its institutions. This should be reflected by a respectful working partnership between each school and its community on issues such as governance, curriculum, professional development, research, and staffing.
  • We believe that all aspects of school reform should keep equity at the center. This entails examining each issue through the lens of race, class and gender, and being willing to institute equity measures to create a level playing field for all involved.
  • To make change, we must build alliances across social barriers, organize and hold the system accountable at every level.

In short, we believe the key elements of this bill will benefit students, families, charter schools as educational institutions, the communities they serve, and the public good for all Washingtonians:

  • FOIA and open meetings compliance, and the training to meet these obligations;
  • Requiring teacher representation on the board, and an older student where applicable;
  • Publishing information about contracts greater than $25,000; and
  • Making teacher and staff salaries public knowledge.

While this is a tempting moment to wax poetic on the debate around charters, school choice, and public education, we will instead start with an indisputable fact: charter schools are a key feature of public education in Washington, D.C., educating nearly half of the District’s public school population. And charter schools are the only other organizations in our local democracy that have accepted the unique charge that is given to DC Public Schools – to serve as the institutions that educate the city’s children using publicly funded dollars, and to be assessed by the same criteria.

Given this unique charge, transparency and accountability must accompany the public resources that come with the (public) students. Public accountability must go beyond test scores, graduation rates, and ESSA stars. Pro-choice and pro-charter advocates (including, the D.C. Public Charter School and its executive director, Scott Pearson, FOCUS, and others) have long touted the mantra that “charter schools ARE public schools.” Currently this is not the case when it comes to transparency and accountability, which this law seeks to rectify.

As many others will argue today, D.C. is far behind its state peers who authorize charters when it comes to transparency and accountability. The strongest argument for this bill may come from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – of which the DCPCSB is a member – which *literally* wrote the Model Law for Supporting the Growth of High-Quality Charter Schools (2016).

The model charter school law for states references the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings laws very clearly in three specific instances:

  • Essential components of the model charter school law: Automatic Exemptions From Many State and District Laws and Regulations, except for those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information requirements, and generally accepted accounting principles. (p. 14)
  • Governing board requirements: Charter public school governing boards shall be subject to and comply with state open meetings and freedom of information laws. (p. 30)
  • Powers of Charter Schools – Applicability of Other Laws, Rules, and Regulations: Charter public school governing boards shall be subject to and comply with state open meetings and freedom of information laws. (p. 67)

Furthermore, we (Teaching for Change) were pleased to see that the bill being debated today includes provisions for the Office of Open Government to provide training regarding FOIA obligations and the Open Meetings Act to charter school employees and board members. The bill also requires the Public Charter School Board to submit the number and costs for requests annually so the Council may assess the “burden” of fulfilling these requests.

We adamantly support the requirements to publish the information about contracts greater than $25,000. We are a nonprofit that receives contracts from both DCPS and charter schools for teacher professional development. We fully support transparency of major contracts funded with public dollars, and we believe the $25,000 threshold is reasonable.

We wholeheartedly back the provision requiring charter schools to seat at least two educators from the staff on the board of trustees, as well as an older student for those serving high school and above. There are charter schools in D.C. and nationwide who already do this. It is a reasonable practice that should apply to all public LEAs.

At Teaching for Change, we are admittedly open to further discussion about the requirement to post individual teacher and staff names alongside their position and salary. We believe the public should readily have access to salaries by position for LEAs and individual schools, and that this transparency benefits educators and students. Considering that research has shown that teachers are the most important school-related factor in student achievement, this aspect of the bill should not be overlooked. Transparency around teacher/staff pay is already available for DCPS and will not interfere with charter operations, choices around curriculum, or other areas where charter schools enjoy autonomy. We believe this measure will strengthen teaching and learning across the District.

We welcome a greater dialogue about ways to improve transparency and accountability in DC Public Schools as well as in charter schools, but the bill before us today is focused on at the minimum, catching D.C. up to speed with regards to accountability and transparency for its charter schools.

Our children, the charter schools in our city, the communities they serve, and public education across the District will be in a stronger position with these accountability and transparency measures in place.

Thank you for this opportunity to testify today.

Mary Levy Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019


 Joint Public Hearing on B23-0199, the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” and B23-0281, the “Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019”

Mary Levy      October 2, 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 transparency issues and over 20 years considering charter school issues.  After studying both the Public School Transparency Act and the School Based Budgeting bill, which I understand will be marked up next week, I urge that the Council enact the first, or incorporate its substance in full into the latter.

Charter schools need open board meetings, teacher representation on their boards, and FOIA.

I support these measures for all the reasons that you will hear over and over today, but I will highlight only two:

  • In a system of choice, families need full information in order to make wise choices. The record of charter school closures – 43 in ten years for many sad reasons — indicates that important information has not been available. Full information needs to be built in or choice does not work well.
  • Any school closing disrupts student education and causes pain and anxiety to families. Charter school closings take place after damage is done. They should be rare, but are not.  Public Charter School Board activities, while necessary and important have proven insufficient to stop problems leading to closings.  Likewise the charter boards. Full information and more stakeholder participation in individual charter board oversight and decision-making will help obviate the need to close schools.

As to the School Based Budgeting bill, I have serious concerns as to whether, as introduced, it will produce the transparency that both the Council and the public want and need.  These are specified in my testimony here of June 26.  There are tremendous deficiencies in DCPS fiscal transparency, among others:

  • Two sets of books, with inconsistent formats, definitions and numbers for local school budgets.
  • The basis of specific local school allocations of general education teachers and special education personnel is unavailable.
  • The only budget data for central offices, that in the FY 2020 Approved Budget, is known to be completely obsolete due to reorganization.
  • There are no data explicating the $25 million FY 2019 budget deficit or its resolution.
  • No enforcement or accountability for disregard of existing budgetary mandates.

The Committee has worked on this bill over the summer but the public has no knowledge of whether and how it has changed going into mark-up, and there is no opportunity to comment on either charter or DCPS transparency.  What is the Committee going to vote on?


Tom Susman Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

Testimony of the D.C. Open Government Coalition

By Thomas M. Susman, President

Before the Joint Hearing of the Committee of the Whole and the

Committee on Education Of the Council of the District of Columbia On B23-0199

October 2, 2019

Screenshot 2019-10-02 16.16.17

Chairman Mendelson, Chairman Grosso and members of the committees. I am Thomas Susman, president of the D.C. Open Government Coalition and a resident of Ward 4. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the Coalition and to offer our comments and suggestions regarding charter school transparency as proposed by Councilmember Allen’s bill.

I want to stress up front that our Coalition has great respect for charter schools and supports their independence and autonomy when it comes to education functions. We applaud the dedication of charter school teachers, administrators, and board members. However, because public funds are the foundation for charter school education, parents, teachers, taxpayers, and the media should have the same rights of access to records from charter schools as they do from public schools in D.C.

In the June hearings on Councilmember Grosso’s bill and today, witnesses with diverse perspectives have provided compelling arguments and examples for greater transparency at the school and Local Education Agency (LEA) level, so I won’t take time here to repeat the reasons for applying the DC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA) to public charter schools.

My testimony today will not focus on why FOIA should apply to charter schools. Instead, I will try to respond to arguments of those who oppose that objective and – perhaps more important – suggest amendments to the legislation to accommodate some of their legitimate concerns. Let me run through those arguments and my responses and suggestions:

FOIA Places Too Heavy a Burden on Staff and Diverts Resources

I’ll start with a not-so-surprising admission: Yes, FOIA could add some work to the staff in finding and reviewing documents responsive to FOIA requests. Complying with any law almost inevitably comes with some cost. But the work load is not likely to be great, and the system can be structured to minimize the burden on individual schools. More to the point: that burden is more than offset by the benefits transparency provides.

  • As to the size of the burden, experience of charter schools in other jurisdictions and of D.C. public schools suggests there will be no tidal wave of requests that will drown charters. Additionally, the bill would track the volume of FOIA requests to facilitate adjustments should predictions prove wrong.
  • We all know that due process in our court system, accessibility for the disabled, assurance of equal opportunity in employment and housing, and similar protections and rights all carry costs, and sometimes not insignificant ones. But they are broadly accepted because they support values fundamental to our society.
  • It is notable that every state and D.C., plus over 120 countries around the world, have enforceable access-to-information laws. This again suggests that, even recognizing the costs entailed, the benefits to the public and to society are worth it.
  • The testimony by lawyers in big firms who draw on their experience in hard-fought, complex federal FOIA litigation is inapposite. D.C. has an efficient and fair administrative appeals process that has resulted in very little litigation, and the courts are well-equipped to manage disputes over large volumes of records such that agency work is not disrupted.

So we shouldn’t throw up our hands and say “no” simply because FOIA entails some additional work. We have two suggestions: First, to minimize the burdens and diversion of resources at the school level, DCOGC proposes that the legislation require that FOIA requests go initially to the Public Charter School Board. The Board and its staff will be responsible for working with the schools and LEAs for search and review procedures that ensure responsive information for requesters. This will relieve the schools of substantial administrative burdens. And the final decision, which may involve questions of law, will be made by a public body already subject to the DC FOIA, with appeals and enforcement already provided in the law.

Second, we recommend that just as resources are provided to public schools and the public school system to handle FOIA requests, and just as resources are provided to all schools in D.C. to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and similar laws, so also should some additional resources be available for charter schools to handle any new burdens imposed by FOIA. This need not be included in the legislation; only experience will tell what the additional resource needs, if any, will be.

Charter School Administrators Are Not Equipped to Implement the FOIA

As I noted above, we recommend that public charter schools provide the same level of transparency as D.C. public schools. Our proposed amendments would establish a procedure for accomplishing this goal that closely parallels procedures employed by DCPS for decades. In the public school system, a requester seeking information from or about a particular school makes the request to DCPS, which enlists personnel at the school to locate responsive records. Once the records are located, DCPS officials review the records and make disclosure decisions. We recognize that the PCSB, charter schools, and LEAs are not part of the same governmental entity, as are DCPS and public schools. But this system works in other jurisdictions where government contractors and nongovernmental entities carrying out governmental functions with public funds are subject to freedom-of-information laws, and it can work here as well.

We thus propose that the PCSB handle FOIA requests for charter school and LEA information. It would receive FOIA requests and ask the schools to provide responsive records. the Board’s expertise and experience will be brought to bear on handling of requests.

We also recommend that this legislation authorize the Office of Open Government to assist charter schools, LEAs, and the PCSB by providing training and advice on best practices for handling FOIA requests.

Confidential Commercial and Financial Information, as Well as Student Privacy. Must be Safeguarded

Confidential commercial and financial information is already specifically protected by the FOIA and would continue to be in the charter realm. The exemptions in DC’s FOIA, based on similar provisions in the federal statute, protect both the decision-making process of the institutions and the confidentiality interests of those doing business with them.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal statute protecting the privacy of student education records, applies to all schools receiving funds under any U.S. Department of Education program. That statute applies equally to D.C. charter and public schools to prevent student records from being disclosed under the DC FOIA.

There Are Concerns About Disclosure of Teachers’ and Staffs’ Salaries.

The Coalition recognizes that salary information is always a sensitive topic. But across the country governments at all levels make public the salaries of employees paid by taxpayer dollars. Salary information for public school employees is public, and there’s good reason to treat charters similarly. The obvious benefits – beyond simply knowing how our public funds are spent – include promoting equity and combatting favoritism and discrimination.

Even so, it would be quite easy to accommodate the interest of charter school administrators in addressing possible disparities or inequities before public disclosure: a specific provision could be added to the legislation delaying for an additional period of time application of the FOIA to salaries, so that the individual schools can have time to make any adjustments deemed appropriate.


In the end, applying the FOIA and OMA to this sector enhances charter school transparency and benefits these important schools as well. Transparency laws bring greater accountability to the institutions to which they apply, generating higher levels of public trust and enhanced public understanding of how tax dollars are used. By increasing public scrutiny, these laws reduce corruption, mismanagement, and waste. We support the legislation and the expectation it embodies that transparency will benefit students, teachers, administrators, regulators, and ultimately taxpayers.

I appreciate the opportunity to testify today on behalf of the D.C. Open Government Coalition. I urge you to apply the OMA and FOIA to public charter schools, and to adopt our proposals for amending the pending legislation. They will facilitate more efficient handling of FOIA requests, ease the potential burden on school administrators, and take advantage of the assistance that the Office of Open Government can offer. DCOGC will be pleased to work with you to develop specific language to achieve these objectives.

Liz Koenig Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

Good afternoon, thank you for the opportunity to testify about the Public School Transparency Amendment Act.  My name is Liz Koenig and I am a Ward 4 DCPS public school teacher and parent and former charter school teacher. I am also a volunteer for EmpowerEd, a teacher advocacy organization.

I want to talk about an aspect of this bill that is important but has gone largely unremarked on amidst the FOIA debate, and that is the requirement to put teachers on the board of each charter school. I am strongly in favor of this and urge you to support this provision.  Family engagement is a priority at most schools these days but it focuses only on those academic, classroom-based interactions between families and teachers. Having teachers and parents included as school leaders on each school’s board could create powerful community around the school’s priorities and mission.

It makes sense to have teachers in the room when discussions around budgets, mission, enrollment, and priorities are discussed.  After I received my previous school’s board meeting minutes (vía a FOIA request to the PCSB since our minutes were not publicly posted), I noticed that our school’s poor teacher retention rates were discussed multiple times over five years.  Why have conversations about teachers, their livelihoods, and their experiences without teachers in the room?  Why plan school-wide initiatives without the input of the people who will implement them?  Why discuss the future of the school without involving the school?  The turnover rate for teachers in DC is abysmal and at some schools, can be called a crisis.  It’s time to trust teachers to be community leaders – our students need us advocating for them in and out of the classroom.

As to the other aspects of this bill, hundreds of teachers and parents have signed a petition asking for Open Meetings and access to FOIA, our Ward Education Councils have discussed and debated the merits, and articles and op-eds have been written about DC’s unique status as the most opaque charter system in the country.  Most in this room are familiar with the arguments for and against the bill.

Arguments against opening DC’s charter schools to these sunshine laws have focused on (1) the hypothetical burden of compliance and (2) the motivation of the people, like me, behind the push for transparency.  Most of the people making these arguments are either paid by the charter sector to make them or are employed in the charter sector.  Because the charter sector and each school depends on “market size” for their survival, and needs to have as many “satisfied customers” as possible to meet enrollment targets and make annual budgets, it causes an unpleasant feeling to wonder why the people at the top work so hard to prevent access to information.  It feels more like brand-management than working to provide a public education in a democratic society.

Arguments for greater transparency and this bill focus on (1) the democratic principle that the spending of public money obligates you to submit to public scrutiny; (2) the opportunity for increased trust and engagement between the thousands of families and the public schools they’ve chosen to send their children to; and (3) the importance of providing an avenue for families to have access to information when something goes horribly wrong.  The vast majority of people making these arguments are volunteering their limited time, speaking out despite the risk of getting fired, or fighting, as DC parents always seem to have to do, for their educational system to take their concerns seriously.

The conversation that we should be having right now, but aren’t, is about the logistics of applying FOIA and Open Meetings to charter schools: would it make sense to have the PCSB act as a clearinghouse and insert a clause in each charter that requires charters to supply documents to them in the event of a FOIA request? Could big charter networks who are used to, and quite capable of, responding to FOIA requests in every other state support smaller charters in getting up to speed on best practices? How do we calculate how much extra funding would be needed year-to-year to accommodate this?  But instead of these productive conversations, we have the people with the most power – both the money and information – refusing to dialogue in good faith with those with less power but more at stake.

In the past, this strategy has been successful, and these loopholes in our open government laws have never been closed.  After two years of working on this issue, building a network of teachers and parents united in their belief in democratic principles, I am confident that the change is coming soon.  I urge you to pass this bill or amend the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Act to include its mandate of FOIA, teachers and students on charter school boards, and transparency in charter teacher pay.

Thank you.

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

Sandra Moscoso Testimony 

Public Hearing on B23-0199, the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” & B23-0281, the “Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019.”

Committee on Education – October 2, 2019 at 10:00AM, JAWB 412

Chairmen Grosso, Mendelson and Councilmembers, I’m Sandra Moscoso, a Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan parent, the School Without Walls High School Home and School Association President, and Secretary of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization. 

I am here to support the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. All schools funded by taxpayer dollars should be subject to the Open Meetings Act. I am glad we all agree on this, including the DC Public Charter School Board. 

I also strongly support that charter schools including all local education agencies be subject to the Freedom of Information Act. As EmpowerEd has shared with us, the case has been made in 39 out of 43 states with charter schools, and even the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools endorses this.

As a long-time member of the Ward 6 education community, I can share that we have relied on OMA to strengthen our schools by staying on top of decisions made by education boards and LSATs, and we’ve relied on FOIA when we’ve feared our kids safety, health and education opportunities have been compromised.

I find it hard to understand how anyone can justify putting students at risk because of fears that doing the right thing may be too much work. Yes, doing the right thing typically takes work, but we live in a society that relies on systems of individuals doing the right thing. 

For example, we have seatbelt laws. Putting on a seatbelt is an extra step, but I think we can all agree it’s worthwhile to keep ourselves and our families safe. I do this, I assume you all do this. I had been lucky and had not been in a traffic accident for over 20 years. One could say that for 20 years that seatbelt has not been doing much of anything. Last October, while driving my two children to after school activities I was t-boned by a motorist who ran a red light. My car was totaled, but we were all OK. That seatbelt was a safeguard that was activated when things went wrong.

This is the role of FOIA in schools – it is the safeguard families, educators, media, policymakers all of us, have to ensure our students are safe, healthy, and that resources are being used for purposes intended. Like seatbelts, FOIA is a tool that protects us when things go wrong.

The Council has oversight responsibility in ensuring children and adults enrolled in public schools receive the education we pay for. The public elected you to provide this oversight but we know you can’t do it alone. Help us help you. Ensuring every student is protected by FOIA.

Thank you for your time.

Rebecca Reina Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

Testimony of Rebecca Reina

Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council

to Council of the District of Columbia,

Committee on Education,

B23-0199, the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” and

B23-0281, the “Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019”

on 10/2/19 at 10:00 pm, John A. Wilson building, room 412

Hello, I‘m Becky Reina, Chair of the Ward 1 Education Council. Our Education Council is a volunteer organization that brings together parents, educators, students, and community members to share information and to advocate for a stronger public education system that supports all our students and families, while ensuring we safeguard our by-right neighborhood schools and work for greater resources, equity, transparency, fairness, and safety across both public educational sectors.

Thank you for this opportunity to provide feedback on the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019. I am here on behalf of W1EC to support the Act’s passage. We believe it is necessary to keep our children safe, minimize the possibility of financial mismanagement of public dollars, and create an environment of openness and collaboration within our schools, among many other things.

When we rebooted the Ward 1 Education Council at the start of this year, Cesar Chavez Prep PCS, was one of our Ward 1 schools.  I was glad to know some of the teachers there who were involved with organizing the first charter school teacher’s union in DC.  So when those same teachers discovered a few months later that the school at which they taught would close at the end of the 2018-9 school year, by receiving a phone call from a Washington Post reporter who informed them in order to allow them to comment, I was deeply saddened.  Schools are communities.  Educators, parents, and students create bonds to best support students.  A vital ingredient of those bonds is trust.  You cannot have trust between two parties if one party is withholding relevant information.

Asking our charter schools to do something new – to be a bit more transparent and accountable – can sound scary and seem too difficult, but these are muscles that we can strengthen with practice. This bill requires the Board of Trustees of a charter school comply with the Freedom of Information Act of 1976 as well as the Open Meetings Act. But, it also requires the Office of Open Government to provide training to affected members of charter schools.

The Act would also require that more information be published on contracts over $25,000. These requirements apply to all public agencies.  It should apply to our charter schools. Charter schools accept public tax dollars to fund the education of nearly half of the public school students in DC. When a charter school spends money on outside contracts, we as taxpayers, parents, and educators should know.  Chavez Prep was spending a great deal of money on that type of contract, which may have contributed to the financial difficulties the school’s leaders cited for closing the campus.

When a school closes, a community is lost. When a school closes abruptly, families struggle to find stability for their students. Students and teachers scatter. I was not surprised when I reached out to the former Chavez Prep teachers I know to learn that their students are all over; many at our vitally important DCPS by-right schools, precisely because many charters do not backfill in middle school and the closure announcement occurred a week before the My School DC lottery deadline for high school. Of the 25 Chavez teachers these teachers could account for, only one landed at another charter. The rest are teaching in DCPS. To quote one, “the greater level of transparency at DCPS around salaries, operations, etc. was a big draw for me.” Salary transparency can prevent bias by race and gender, which is particularly needed in a city blessed with so many teachers of color. Transparency on operations can allow our educators to feel like valued team members who can work with their school administrators to meet the needs of our students.

The Public School Transparency Amendment Act can help us hold all our Local Education Agencies to the same standard of accountability and transparency. Our kids deserve that, regardless of the LEA they attend. Our children and our democracy require safeguards.

Suzanne Wells Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

Committee on Whole and Education

Public Hearing

Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019

Wednesday, October 2, 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.

It is a sad state of affairs that the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 even had to be introduced. Transparency is a key feature in any free and open society.  Because there has been no willingness, and even resistance, from the public charter school sector and its advocates to comply with the basic provisions of the Open Meetings Act and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Public School Transparency Amendment Act had to be introduced.

The Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 would require any District of Columbia public charter school, including its Board of Trustees, to comply with FOIA, and the Open Meetings Act.  Both FOIA and the Open Meetings Act play an important role in keeping our public institutions transparent and accountable.  They are common sense acts that we depend on in our democracy.  With almost half of the students being educated today by public charter schools, it is vitally important that public charter school families be afforded the same protections offered by FOIA and the Open Meetings Act that DCPS parents have. In addition, the public charter schools receive over $800 million in funding, and it is vitally important that there be transparency and accountability in how our tax dollars are spent.

You will likely hear today from some people who believe requiring public charter schools to comply with FOIA and the Open Meetings Act will be a burden for the public charter schools and divert public charter school leaders time away from running their schools.  No data have been presented to back up these claims.  Even if compliance with these laws did require public charter school leaders to devote time to complying with them, that time is well spent if it results in greater transparency and accountability in how children are treated.

One charter advocacy representative expressed concerns FOIAs will be filed simply to satisfy someone’s “curiosity.”  My observations have been just the opposite.  People file FOIAs when they have serious concerns about something.  For example, the recent allegations of sexual misconduct at Capitol Hill Montessori have shown how important it is to be able to obtain information from Local Education Agencies (LEAs) on compliance with background checks.  Because parents in the public charter school sector cannot request this type of information, they learn about sexual misconduct allegations when The Washington Post chooses to publish an article about the alleged allegations.  Parents may have a need to learn more about a school’s special education or discipline practices.  Without FOIA and the Open Meetings Act, it can be difficult or impossible to gather this type of information.

Earlier this year, the Public Charter School Board updated its School Transparency Policy, and is requiring certain information such as student and employee policies be maintained on the individual charter schools’ websites.  This policy seems to be in response to calls for greater transparency, but simply does not provide the same type of information that could be obtained through FOIA.

There was a hearing earlier this year on the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Act.  That Act would require the public charter schools to comply with the Open Meetings Act, but not with FOIA.  I urge the Council to address the issues of transparency and accountability comprehensively.  The Council is scheduled to mark up the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Act soon.  These two bills should not proceed on parallel tracks, but rather should both be considered so that one Act can address the deficiencies we currently have with openness and transparency in the public charter school sector.



Valerie Jablow Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

I am Valerie Jablow, a 14-year DCPS parent.

In March 2019, parents at DCI, a DC charter school, apparently received an electronic message from the school[1] asking them to oppose Bill 0199, the subject of today’s hearing–to ensure that FOIA and the open meetings act apply to all publicly funded schools in DC.

That message was apparently sent by the DCI communications manager. Publicly available information did not provide this person’s duties, salary, or its source–nor could I avail myself of this by FOIA. But it would seem this person is being paid by the school to lobby.

By comparison, my children’s DCPS schools have been staffed by people whose entire jobs are dedicated to student safety, wellbeing, and education, while advocacy has been undertaken by unpaid, and otherwise unsupported, parent volunteers like me.[2]

Yet, I and other parents have been almost always outnumbered by such paid influencers who, in addition to mobilizing electronically, regularly flood the halls of this building to oppose our knowledge about, and involvement in, DC’s publicly funded schools.

We now know why: A recent City Paper story[3] showed that DC charters and education reform interests have engaged in a massive lobbying effort to ensure they garner public school resources while limiting public knowledge and involvement.

Worse, that lobbying has been funded in part by taxpayer dollars intended for the safety, wellbeing, and education of our kids!

Having FOIA and open meetings for all our publicly funded schools is thus a mere start to leveling this tilted playing field. We need just ONE law to require both FOIA and open meetings for all our schools. This is not too costly: 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.

And yet, here we are, debating yet again these basic tools of democracy like it’s democratic to purposely exclude the public from the institutions and agencies it funds! It’s not enough to rely on the charter board to gather and disseminate information because no one here today can possibly know what someone, somewhere, may need to know. (They’re authorizers, not Santa Claus.)

For all the “burden” DC charter schools may face from FOIA requests, who is accounting for the burden of that shadow army of influencers and lobbyists, paid by public funds to oppose the public?

And who is accounting for the burden of years that I and thousands of other DC parents and community members have spent, all on our own dime, seeking out information about our public schools, only to be told little or nothing?

Here are a few recent examples[4]:

–No publicly available list of sexual assault policies or incidents at DC charter schools;

–No publicly available information about playground lead tests for any DC charter school;

–No publicly available needs analyses for individual DC charter school applications; and

–No mandatory public disclosure of charter board members’ sources of income, other finances, and potential conflicts of interest.

Keeping information about our public schools from the public isn’t innovation or cost-saving—it’s deceit and has no place in a democracy. Please pass Bill 0199. Thank you.


[2] To be sure, this has resulted in terrible inequities of representation, wherein schools with parents who can show up to testify, call, email, protest get heard—and those that lack such parents don’t get heard. Here’s a blog post I wrote exactly 4 years ago on this subject of power imbalance at the Wilson Bldg.:

Parent Engagement in Schools: Part 3


[4] There are many more examples of how disconnected DC taxpayers are from the schools that we collectively pay more than $2 BILLION funding annually, which I outlined in my testimony in June 2019:

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

–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.

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

–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.

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

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

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

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

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

–There is no publicly available explanation as to how no other city agency had any use for Ferebee-Hope.

–No publicly available advertising of education budget meetings this summer.