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Testimony of Elizabeth Bacon at the Education Committee Public Hearing on B21-0115, Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act of 2015

Councilmember Grosso and the Committee on Education: Thank you for holding this hearing today as a public discussion of transparency and fiscal responsibility for our public schools. This is an important, although sometimes difficult, issue that we must address to be better stewards of the $1.4 million we spend in public money on our education system annually.

In my view – as a parent with two children in DCPS schools and as a former LSAT member with experience deciphering school budgets – there is room, and need, to strengthen this bill. After seeing how tight (and often short) the capital and operating budgets are at my children’s DCPS schools, I believe we must be better stewards of our public education dollars.

As well, as a member of the education council in Ward 6 and as a member of the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities, I would point councilmembers to the proposals to strengthen this bill in the Coalition’s recent paper, “Transparency, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility for Publicly Funded Charter Schools in DC,” which contends that all of our public schools, no matter the sector, should be held to the same standards of accountability and transparency.

As I understand it, the current version of the Act, as introduced, only applies to a handful of charter schools. Examples of charters diverting millions to private contractors – as in the cases of Options and Community Academy – should speak to an imperative for greater transparency for all public charter schools, both those open now, and those that will open in the future.

As a DCPS parent, I hear how charters are supposed to spur innovation and best practices for traditional schools, but if it’s not clear how money is being spent to implement these best practices, how is it possible to authentically replicate these models and practices?

Mine is a parent’s perspective, but two particular recommendations from a recent report from the Annenberg Institute, “Public Accountability for Public Charter Schools, Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight,” on effective oversight of public charter schools echo the conversation here today:

  • School governance should be representative and transparent.
  • Monitoring and oversight of charter schools are critical to protect the public interest.

A data warehouse – as outlined in the School Reform Act (and called for by fall 2016) – would serve to create common data points across the charter and DCPS sectors to provide intelligible and useful comparisons. This would be important to the sectors being able to learn from each other (which is in line with the goals of the cross-sector collaboration task force being formed now by the Deputy Mayor for Education); important to Council for oversight purposes; and important to LEAs and citizens in assessing how money is being spent to achieve specific results.

In the interest of stewardship of public dollars and building the strongest public education system in our city we can, I urge the Committee to use this legislation and future opportunities to strengthen fiscal transparency and accountability for our city’s education spending.

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