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DC Council: Please Support Transparency, Stability and Success for All Public Schools, All Students

Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization
Please Support Transparency, Stability and Success for
All Public Schools, All Students

The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization (W6PSPO) is an all-volunteer collaboration of parents, educators and community members helping to strengthen and support public schools in Ward 6. Ward 6 schools serve a diverse student population, including students from across the city. Almost 40% of students attending Ward 6 DCPS schools live in Wards 5, 7, and 8.

We believe the DC Council can play a significant role in demanding and shaping a stronger education system that supports success for every student. We ask the Council to leverage every tool in its toolkit, including adjusting budgets, demanding action by DCPS in oversight, requesting a performance-based budget, amending the School Reform Act, stopping administrative actions that have not included robust public engagement and may negatively affect communities, to implement the following recommendations.

Ensure Transparency for All

Transparency for All Schools and LEAs. Parents and students must know that they are safe and supported. We support the Public School Transparency Act and urge the Council to take swift action to pass it.

Strong Oversight. We need strong oversight over both sectors and our education system as a whole to ensure transparency so that parents and the public are never kept in the dark about proposals, decisions or the impact of decisions on students, educators and school communities.

Stabilize School System and Supports

Invest in School Improvement and Stability. Having access to a predictable, high-quality elementary to high school feeder pattern is the most important predictor of in-boundary participation rates. We continue to see the opening of new schools that don’t take into account impacts on feeder patterns [1], pull students out of their in-boundary schools, and spread our precious education dollars thin. We see regular closures of schools causing great disruption and confusion to families. We need strategies for filling under-enrolled schools, particularly middle and high schools, and meeting the needs for middle schools that take into account what communities want. And, we need to continue to build on specialized programs such as language immersion programs by providing them a feeder path that continues those specialized programs.

Invest in Teacher and Principal Retention. Excessively high teacher and principal turnover creates tremendous instability throughout the school systems. An October 3, 2018, DCSBOE report on Teacher Turnover found that “teacher turnover is higher in DC than in other comparable American cities, including New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee, and higher than the national average. The yearly teacher turnover rate, averaged over three years, across both traditional public and public charter schools is about 25 percent, compared to a national average of approximately 16 percent and an average of 19% among a selection of urban districts. In both sectors, schools with the highest percentages of at-risk students tend to suffer from the highest rates of teacher turnover.” We recommend that the Council take action on the recommendations outlined in the report:

  • Create and maintain a single comprehensive and publicly available source of teacher and principal turnover data
  • Require the state to work with LEAs to ensure richer data collection on teacher and principal characteristics
  • Support a new, sustained research project exploring linkages between teacher and principal turnover and student success

In addition, as Chancellor Ferebee said at our recent W6PSPO meeting “Often people don’t leave jobs, they leave leaders.” We must ensure that the principal evaluation system includes effective processes for feedback from staff, students and parents. And we must be sure we are doing all we can to ensure our teachers and principals have the support they need to help all students succeed.

Develop and Follow a System-wide Master Facilities Plan. The master facilities planning by the Administration lacked authentic engagement and is unworkable as it only looks at planning for half of our students. We need a system-wide structure for planning and decision-making around school facilities for all public schools, both DCPS and Charter, including accurate projections for enrollment and vacant seats, strategies for filling under-enrolled schools, and community-responsive and community-engaged planning for new schools. System-wide plans should include coordination and strategy around opening, closing and changing the programmatic focus of schools.

Community-School Supported DC Research Collaborative: Kick off and fund the DC Research Collaborative, guided by a robust, diverse steering committee not comprised of majority mayoral appointees, that ensures safe and full sharing of data to support the work of the Collaborative, grounded in the needs of students and school improvement from the perspectives of those on the ground.

Ensure Adequate Resources and School Budgets

Educational Technology, including IT Support and Teacher Training: The DCPS technology initiative in the Mayor’s budget focuses on computer hardware and is a good first step. However, schools also need adequate IT support and teacher training to ensure that technology is used effectively. A comprehensive, multi-year plan for DCPS technology, as called for by the DCPS Student Technology Equity Act of 2019, is needed. Additionally, Council should press DCPS and OCTO on how it will support school technology for the remainder of this school year, in advance of online PARCC testing.

Adequate and Equitable Education School Budgets: Each year, costs increase faster than increases to school budgets. As a result, many schools are faced with staffing cuts each year. Schools can’t close achievement gaps and ensure college and career readiness for all with fewer and fewer resources each year. We must provide enough resources so every school has a strong base budget that builds on the previous year’s budget. In addition, at-risk funding must supplement, not supplant, other funding. Solving this challenge will likely involve increasing DCPS’s budget allocation from the Mayor as well as “looking under the hood” in DCPS central office budgeting, and at citywide costs for operating both DCPS and a charter sector. We highly recommend that Council (1) require and fund the DC Auditor to conduct a DCPS and PCSB budget audit and (2) commission a school budget expert to investigate these issues and make recommendations to mitigate unstable school budgeting and continued reductions in school staffs in the years to come.

Adequate Capital Budget for School Facilities: We must ensure that our DCPS schools that have yet to be modernized see a fast track to modernization and that we have robust funding for ongoing maintenance, repair and stabilization needs. We must also ensure safe, healthy, and modern school buildings.

  • Ensure an Effective Partnership between DGS and DCPS: Currently, school buildings are not being maintained efficiently and effectively. School communities too often have to turn to Councilmembers, media and social media to turn work orders into action items. We need significant oversight that will lead to new policy or funding that will ensure DGS and DCPS can work together efficiently and effectively to quick-response action that ensures the safety and health of students and faculty at every school. 
  • Ensure Healthy and Safe Schools: Significant attention needs to be paid to ensure agencies are adequately protecting the health and safety of students, educators and staff in schools. We need to ensure transparency and support for lead-free schools and water and keep schools safe from other environmental hazards. We need to ensure transparency and allow the public access to observe implementation of the Water Filtration and Testing Protocol.

Support and Demand Effective Public Engagement

Effective Local School Advisory Teams (LSATs): LSATs are a critical aspect of ensuring school budgets are implemented effectively and are responsive to educator, student, and school community needs. However, LSATs are implemented unevenly and with varying degrees of success across schools. There should be significant research and oversight to understand the current state of LSATs and solutions uncovered to ensure robust engagement of LSATs across all schools.

Agency Support for Authentic Community Engagement: We need a robust conversation about how to improve community engagement in education issues involving the Mayor’s office, DME, DCPS, OSSE and the PCSB. From the lack of engagement in the Chancellor search to lack of regular engagement with communities about how to problem-solve together, DC has generally failed in engaging parents and communities in productive solutions. We believe that authentic engagement can be a critical lever in accelerating progress for students. Oversight is needed to uncover how engagement can be improved and systems put in place to ensure its effective use. Specific examples include major disconnects between agencies and those on the ground (e.g., educators and parents) on issues such as modernization, stabilization, school budgeting, school openings, strengthening feeder systems, school technology needs, etc.


[1] DCPS will open a new selective high school this year, Bard High School Early College and plans to double the capacity of  Banneker Academic High School, and the PCSB is considering 11 new applications this spring that include six stand-alone middle or high schools.

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W6PSPO Meeting Notes – June 18, 2019 (DRAFT)

June 18, 2019
Payne Elementary School, 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

  1. Discussion on what makes a rich curriculum – Jessica Sutter (DC State Board of Education – Ward 6 Representative)
    • SBOE Role:
      • No power over books, approach, etc
      • Purview over state standards: focus on social studies, art, health, pe
    • SBOE Challenges:
      • Not sure what is being taught in schools; what are students actually learning?
        • looking at required time allocated to curricular areas; if schools are dedicating time to subjects per state standards (example: mandates that physical education be provided for an average of at least 150 minutes per week for students in grades Kindergarten through five and an average of at least 225 minutes per week for students in grades six through eight)
        • If schools are not dedicating required classroom time to subjects, what is getting in the way?
    • Process:
      • Reviewed Ward 6 school websites for curriculum / calendars. Not all schools publish schedules; spoke w/ principals; reaching out to community
    • Learnings/Discussion
      • PE: Most schools list 30 mins for elementary schools
      • Concerns that when classroom time is allocated to social studies and science, there is less time for literacy
      • For Elementary: Teachers may be asked to teach new subjects, which can be a professional development issue
      • For Middle Schools: Standards won’t change, but adequate staffing is an issue
      • Science: lack of materials and qualified/competent teachers is an issue
      • Access to resources and equity issues impact the ability for schools to offer content meeting standards
      • Gentrification impact: needs change, students don’t all face intense needs and now needs are more about “lifting students from above”.
      • Stuart Hobson adds advanced/elective offerings by stretching the schedule w/ 0 period, etc.
  2. At-Risk Funding and Transparency Bills Hearing –
  3. W6PSPO Strategy
    • Annual tour of schools by CM Allen?
      • Need point person for each school
    • Attend CM Allen office hours with focus on school facility issues
    • Working on W6PSPO branding, communication strategy changes to better reflect Ward 6-wide work.

Next CHPSPO Meeting: July 16, 2019

Upcoming Events

 

DCPS: Reducing Barriers for Attendance July 17
6 – 7:30 pm

Anacostia Library
1800 Good Hope Road, SE

DCPS: Navigating Special Education in DCPS August 7
6 – 7:30 pm

Tenley-Friendship Library
4450 Wisconsin Avenue, NW

DCPS: The Immigrant Family Experience
in DCPS (Conducted in Spanish)
August 15
9 – 10:30 am

Latin American Youth Center
1419 Columbia Road, NW

October 2: School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 Hearing: Committee of the Whole and Education.

Visit W6PSPO on the web at http://chpspo.org

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W6PSPO Meets July 16 at Northeast Library

The Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization will meet on Tuesday, July 16, at 6:30 pm at the Northeast Library (330 7th St., NE). Jennifer Comey from the Deputy Mayor for Education’s office will join us to give an overview of EdScape Beta, a new data resource tool intended to inform and support program and school planning. Hope to see you on Tuesday.

| edscape

Suzanne Wells

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