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Testimony of Elizabeth Bacon — DC Council Education Committee DCPS Budget Oversight Hearing — April 27, 2017

Thank you to the Committee for your commitment to hearing public voices in the oversight of our public schools. I am a Ward 6 public schools parent with one child at School Within School and another at Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

Today, I want to testify through the lenses of fiscal responsibility and transparency.

I believe it’s fiscally responsible to put more money into schools – into programming and into our school buildings. I believe it’s fiscally responsible to use part of the city’s enormous surplus on our schools.

But it’s not responsible to give the wealthiest DC residents a tax cut at the expense of schools.

Our city is booming. So much development everywhere, much of it in high-end condo buildings and expensive sports stadiums but some in family-oriented spending, like library renovations and parks and safer streets.

BUT WHERE IS THE EQUAL COMMITMENT TO OUR ALL OUR SCHOOLS? And to the health and safety of the environments for our teachers and students?

At so many of past oversight hearings, we’ve heard about the broken process to fix schools — not just modernize them. Today, I bring examples of that broken process from one teacher at SWS:

In my first year of teaching as I lay the children down to sleep on their mats I watched in disgust as small mice would run by the sleeping children with little to no recourse in preventing it. In my second year the AC unit above my room leaked ruining materials and destroying ceiling tiles. My third year I saw DGS take off the locks to our doors so we were no longer able to successfully fulfill our mandated active shooter drills. Imagine knowing that fact and having to assure parents and children that they are safe. To this day, I still have no locks on my door. In my fourth year we had lead in our drinking water, a gas leak, a small fire. This year, we had 90-degree classroosm for weeks on end and continue to battle with rats.

As a highly effective teacher, I’ve risen above the despicable conditions DCPS has continued to neglect but this is no way to treat your teachers and especially not your students.

Earlier this week, we heard Councilmember Allen’s and Chairman Grosso’s support for spending surplus dollars on our school buildings — rather than prioritizing tax cuts. We applaud our council members who are prioritizing our public schools over tax cuts.

I turn now to fiscal responsibility and transparency of the at-risk funds.

Even though we’re far beyond using at-risk funds as “happiness money” (the Proving What’s Possible model) money, the use of at-risk funds is still not aligned with the law — used “for the purpose of improving student achievement among at-risk students” and “shall not supplant any Formula, federal, or other funds to which the school is entitled” — and it’s still not transparent to principals, LSATs, and parents how at-risk funds allocated, and how much is allocated.

Mary Levy and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has done an incredible amount of digging into the use of at-risk funds at every school. Their analysis shows that about half of the at-risk funds are being used to supplant core functions that school budgets should be paying for otherwise.

As a parent consumer of school budgets, it’s not transparent how much each school is actually receiving in at-risk funds or how those funds are being used.

In the budget allocation worksheets, it’s impossible to tell where the at-risk funds are going. SWS’ and Watkins’ budget has a line item for “At Risk Funds” (although Watkins At-Risk Funds line item is $1), but Stuart-Hobson and Eliot-Hine do not. Is this because DCPS has already allocated that money for these middle schools – in core staffing or in art, music, PE, and science supplies and “Socio-Emotional Support Funds”? How do we know?

To make matters more opaque: the total at-risk funds listed that each school receives doesn’t follow a consistent formula. Of the 4 schools I looked at in Ward 6, each received less than what should be allocated according to the DCPS formula of $2,152 per at-risk student (as calculated by DC Fiscal Policy Institute based on the DCPS at-risk weight) and none received the same per pupil amount.

Here are my back-of-the-envelope calculations comparing several school’s initial allocations (because the final budgets aren’t yet publicly available, but we’re still having a budget oversight hearing!):

School Total received as listed in initial allocation worksheet Number of at-risk students Per student amount calculated based on total shown on worksheet Total amount that would be allocated if calculated according to formula in the DCPS budget guide (base of $9827 x at-risk weight of .219 = $2,152 per at-risk student) Difference
SWS 44,800 22.7 1,973 46,698 -1,898
Watkins 229,600 118.72 1933 255,485 -25,885
Eliot-Hine 293,800 150.52 1951 323,919 -30,119
Stuart-Hobson 264,100 147.56 1789 317,549 -53,449

The at-risk funds are a crucial resource in schools’ toolboxes to level the playing field for all of our students. But schools still cannot take full advantage of this resources as long as allocations aren’t consistent, don’t supplant school budgets, and aren’t transparent.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.

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