DC Council Hearing on Education Budget
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Testimony by Sandra Moscoso, Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan Parent
Council Members Catania, Grosso, Wells, Alexander and Barry, thank you for the opportunity to testify. As a parent in DC Public Schools, I continue to value the work of this committee and would like to commend what I perceive to be a push for transparency by the council. I believe this is in line with what families are looking for, in order to make decisions about and advocate for schools, transportation, safety, and beyond.
I recently described my community’s engagement with the city and schools to a group of international visitors. I talked about how in DCPS, parents are invited to be part of the budget process; that we review how the school is staffed, look at allocation for non staff costs like toilet paper and do our best to compare our school’s staffing to other schools and across years. As I described this, it occured to me how odd this might seem and the visitors confirmed that it’s not something they would expect from their own schools or governments.
While I am not sure that this type of city-with-citizen engagement is intentional or deliberate, it’s clear to me that it is crucial to the success of our schools. Every successful school I have seen in action is a product of a strong partnership between its families and educators.
Families build gardens, design playgrounds, develop enrichment opportunities, host staff appreciation weeks, organize community discussions, support school communications, work to improve our children’s lunches, write grants and raise funds. In turn, we entrust our children’s and their peers’ academic (and to some degree social) development to educators. We expect that the quality of the academic programming in our schools will not only be stable from year to year, but will hopefully improve and be adequately resourced.
Unfortunately, over the past years, it seems that the support for schools seems to be slipping. Schools are being asked to meet enrollment minimums in order to get resources like librarians, music, language and art teachers. Of course, in order to attract families, schools need to offer resources. What is disturbing, is that schools that have worked hard to meet these enrollment requirements are now losing existing resources when the enrollment bar is raised. Without any warning, as there was no transparency around the process by which these enrollment decisions were made.
I do not know whether this situation is coming from overall school budget needing to be supplemented by the city, or whether DCPS is not distributing resources in a way that best supports schools. I do not necessarily want to be in the position of having to figure this out, but here I am, wondering why my children’s school and my neighbors’ schools, cannot get a full-time librarian and are at risk of losing our language (and other) teachers. I am also wondering how exactly the funds that were budgeted for my children’s (and other) schools were spent? We (parents and school educators) did our part in making our schools a place where children learn, are enriched and made sure other parents know it, so more families want to enroll. I am wondering whether the city and DCPS are doing their part?
When it comes to resourcing our schools, let me be clear. I send my children to their school because I believe in their teachers, their peers, and the staff who supports them in that building. I do not send them to their school because of DCPS’ teacher evaluation system, or because of the opportunity for my children to test out another version of the DC CAS or Paced Interim Assessment.
I value the collection of data and measurement of results, but it must be purposeful. In the case of my children’s education, when it comes to data, I wonder why I hear so much about testing and teacher evaluation, but not so much about how my children’s school is enriched? I also wonder about whether the data collected about my children’s school and its performance is well-rounded. Finally, given this environment of choice, I wonder why ALL of this data, given its importance, is not yet available for ALL schools (DCPS and charter) in a central place, like the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE). As families, we don’t really have a choice if we don’t have access to information to make that choice. I see good things happening in way of making this data available by OSSE and hope that the Council and the schools will continue to support this level of transparency and will apply it to school factors beyond standardized testing.
In closing, my requests and expectations of DCPS and the city are simple and hopefully sensible. Families are much more interested in what is happening at their children’s school than in the school system. Resource the schools properly, so they are attractive to families. Be transparent about how resources are budgeted, allocated and spent. Given that we are told we have choices, make all (non-sensitive) data publicly available for all schools.
Thank you for your audience.