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Amber Gove Testimony, DCPS Budget Hearing, April 11, 2018

Thank you Councilmember Grosso and committee members for the chance to testify today.

As recent events have highlighted, DCPS needs steady leadership from someone who knows our city and system, and can deliver what parents, students and teachers need most: quality, safe schools that meet the needs of all students. This is also an election year, and given recent events, all eyes are on DCPS and the current budget cycle. This situation presents a unique opportunity to deliver on Mayor Bowser’s campaign promises, including her commitment to “Alice Deal for All,” a pledge to ensure all DCPS middle schools are as well-resourced as Deal. Unfortunately, raising the quality of all middle schools is a dream that has largely been deferred: according to OSSE data, the feeder school capture rate for all DCPS middle schools is 39 percent; Deal is an outlier at 74 percent. When it comes time to enroll their children in middle school, many parents do not yet believe that DCPS is the best option and they vote with their feet at an alarming rate.

As a Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, Local School Advisory Team member, and parent of two girls at Maury Elementary on Capitol Hill, I regularly hear from residents about their educational aspirations for their children. Middle school choice is the hot topic of every playdate, parent gathering on the playground, and church coffee hour. What families want most is a safe, quality school that will meet the educational needs of their children and all of the children that it serves. They want a school that will welcome their involvement and volunteerism. And they don’t want to have to travel across town to get it: they want their children to walk or bike to their neighborhood middle school.

In our neighborhood, Eliot-Hine Middle School has the potential to deliver what Ward 6 parents want. But the school, like many within DCPS, is facing serious budget constraints related to its current enrollment levels. The funding formula for a middle school with just over 200 students presents limited opportunities for growth and vision. In multiple meetings with prospective parents, Principal Young and her leadership team have articulated a vision that includes staffing to meet the needs of all students, a focus on school culture and classroom responsiveness, and the extension of the school day to expand programming. Realizing this vision will require working outside of DCPS’ rigid enrollment-based funding formula, yet to date, DCPS has not even provided the minimum staffing model required by the International Baccalaureate program, particularly with regards to language. This needs to change, and urgently. Our community is seeking your support in asking the Deputy Mayor for Education and DCPS to fund Eliot-Hine not just to the levels of its existing enrollment, but through additional investments that support the school’s expected growth to some 500 students over the next few years.
Funding the school’s priorities is paramount if DCPS wishes Eliot-Hine to grow to its full potential and be able to attract more families from feeder and other Ward 6 schools. If you build it, we will come. At Maury we have compiled a list of nearly 40 students whose families are committed to enrolling at Eliot-Hine. Similar lists are being compiled at other feeder and non-feeder schools. Each of those school communities should be consulted to better understand what they would like to see at their child’s middle school. For example, parents of Tyler Elementary students are particularly interested in accelerated Spanish and immersion opportunities, an option not currently available at any nearby middle school. They are not alone, as the testimony of DC Language Immersion Project indicates. I ask that DCPS engage with principals and use the current budget cycle to fund the vision they and their communities have for their middle schools, beyond what current enrollment levels might dictate.

I also ask that the Deputy Mayor for Education work with the Chancellor to create a more pro-equity funding formula for all middle schools. As the figures attached to my testimony indicate, there is substantial variation in the amount of per-pupil funding middle schools receive for non-personnel costs. My analysis of FY19 budgets shows that while Deal can expect $1802 per student for non-personnel expenditures, nine of the eleven other middle schools receive less per student, and several receive only a third of Deal’s expected allocation. Some of these schools, like Eliot-Hine, have at risk populations of 70 percent or more. I was shocked to learn that middle schools receive a flat amount per student of just $9 for art, $10 each for music and PE/health, $12 for science and $20 for literacy: $61 in total for each student to support these critical subject areas. As a recent Washington Post article reports, more advantaged schools are able to supplement their DCPS allocations by raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through their PTAs. Most schools on this chart, and in particular those with a high percentage of at-risk students, have no such luxury. As just one proposal, I would suggesting starting every middle school with the same $1802 Deal will receive, and then add additional resources based on the proportion of at-risk students the school supports.

As an international education researcher and policy advisor, I’m often asked why I don’t work on domestic education issues. My usual response is that I work in places with all of the will and not enough means, while in the United States we have all of the means and not enough will. DC is different. As recent events have laid bare, there is a critical mass of residents, like me, who want our city to deliver on the promise of educating all students. We don’t want to play the lottery or compete for space in charter schools, leaving others behind. We don’t want our children to travel halfway across the city because their neighborhood school does not offer them what they need. And we don’t want to see another generation of students passed through the system without having their learning needs met. We have both the will and the means to achieve quality education for all, in all of our wards and neighborhoods. And we will remember the promises made (and the promises not fulfilled) at the polls in June and November.

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