DC Council Hearing on DCPS SY14 Budget
April 17, 2013
Testimony by Martin Welles
Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am testifying on behalf of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization about concerns we have with the DCPS SY14 budget. Our testimony today focuses on 1) the impact most schools will see next year because of lower budgets, 2) specific concerns with librarians, foreign language instructors, and mental health professionals, and 3) suggested solutions for ensuring the DCPS budget includes a plan for stabilizing and strengthening schools.
Many schools across the city are projected to see fewer dollars in their school budgets next year and the reason stems from two factors: 1) projected drops in enrollment, and 2) raising the size of small schools from 300 to 400 students. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute’s analysis of the initial local school allocations found $8 million less will be going to the individual schools in SY14 in spite of a 2% increase in the per student funding formula. Less funding is going to the schools because there is a projected enrollment drop of about 1,100 students. In addition, many schools will see their budgets decreased because DCPS arbitrarily raised the size of what is considered a small school from 300 to 400 students, and important positions like librarians, art teachers, social workers and psychologists are only budgeted for ½ time positions at small schools. It is important to note that in some cases schools with under 400 students are fully enrolled and some have waitlists, but are being hurt in the budget process because they have a building capacity for fewer than 400 students.
The impact of these lower budgets will be felt. Many schools will have larger class sizes and fewer staff in the school. Libraries often won’t be staffed. Middle school students won’t have foreign language instruction. Evaluations and meetings requiring the presence of mental health professionals will be delayed. Principals and teachers will be asked to do more with less. You will also hear concerns from others today about the growing number of schools that do not qualify for DCPS aftercare, and the impact this has on working families.
The library programs will be impacted. Based on the submitted budgets, of the thirteen elementary and middle schools in Ward 6, only five will have full-time librarians, all three middle schools will only have ½ time librarians, two elementary schools will have ½ time librarians, and three will have full-time library aides. The lack of library media specialists will result in students being short-changed by not having access to quality library programming, and missed opportunities for collaboration between librarians and classroom teachers.
While DCPS is putting a new emphasis on foreign language instruction, we feel the emphasis is misguided. Many elementary schools will be hiring foreign language instructors and the foreign language will be taught as a specials subject where students will get instruction 45 minutes a week or less. Yet, a middle school like Stuart Hobson will no longer be able to offer foreign language as it has in previous years because its enrollment is projected to fall below 400 students, and the school is being reclassified as a “small school.” (Historically, this school has always had enrollment between 350 and 450 students.) At this school, where Spanish has been offered for many years as a core subject, the PTA finds itself having to step in to offer a before and/or after-school Spanish class for a portion of the school’s students. As you may know, in order to be accepted into competitive high schools in DC, middle school students have to fulfill the foreign language requirement.
These school-level cuts are shortsighted because they will exacerbate the enrollment problems by driving away frustrated parents and lead to further destabilization of our neighborhood schools. One parent told us the decision not to offer foreign language at Stuart Hobson was a “deal breaker” for her family, and they will likely choose another school to send their children. When parents choose another school, they will likely choose a charter school that offers foreign language instruction. When families cannot depend on programs being offered from one year to the next they start to look elsewhere. This is destabilizing to our neighborhood schools because it further decreases enrollment and thus more schools will fall under the 400 student threshold to qualify for certain budget items, such as full-time librarian and foreign language instruction. It turns into a “vicious cycle” of perpetuating low enrollment.
So what should be done? If the DC public schools are to be successful in this time of school choice and competition, we believe investments must be made to provide the types of programming that will retain and attract families. We strongly recommend:
- the recommendations of the DCPS Library Task Force be followed in regards to library staffing, and that DCPS fund full-time librarian positions regardless of school size.
- DCPS rethink the staffing planned for foreign language instruction in the coming year. We believe there should be a greater emphasis on ensuring foreign language is provided equitably across all of the city’s middle schools, and that the educational value of providing very limited foreign language instruction at the elementary schools be reexamined. At the elementary level, foreign language instruction can only be viewed as ineffective, unless it is taught more than once a week.
- targeted investments be made in the local schools where DCPS sees schools losing quality programming they have previously offered due to the SY14 budget cuts.