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Grace Hu Testimony – Roundtable on At-Risk Funding – February 1, 2019

Grace Hu
Amidon-Bowen Elementary PTA
mailto:amidonbowendc@gmail.com
February 1, 2019

My name is Grace Hu. I serve on the PTA of Amidon-Bowen Elementary and have previously served on the Amidon-Bowen Local School Advisory Team.  On behalf of the Amidon-Bowen PTA, I would like to thank you for holding this hearing and specifically thank Councilmember Charles Allen for introducing legislation on the important topic of at-risk funding.

Earlier this week Comments on CM Allen At Risk Funding bill Jan 29 2019. Our PTA contributed to and endorses those comments. My testimony today provides additional views specific to our school community.

Chronic underfunding not an excuse to misuse at-risk funding

Amidon-Bowen Elementary, the neighborhood elementary school for Southwest DC, serves approximately 350 students, of which more than 70% have been identified as “at risk”.  Our parents notice that staffing positions are on the chopping block each year and students lack basic resources (e.g., computers to support online testing and curricula, paper, other supplies) in the classroom. We wonder how are we expected to close the achievement gap (and overcome our 2-star OSSE rating) without a serious investment of resources?

But while we believe there is a chronic underfunding of our schools, we also believe that chronic underfunding is not an excuse for the misuse of at-risk fundsAs long as at-risk funding is being used to cover budget gaps at our neediest schools while schools without at-risk funding are provided base positions and resources without this shell game (see footnote [1]) of moving around at-risk money to cover shortfalls, funds that are designed to provide equity will continue to be used to create inequity.

At-risk funds and student achievement

Although the intent of existing law is to improve student achievement among at-risk students, we currently use at-risk funding on things like social workers, psychologists, and afterschool staffing. These provide significant value to our students and families and should be available, but they are not specifically targeted to closing the achievement gap. If we want to narrow the achievement gap, we have to be more intentional about targeting instructional resources to at-risk students. Research shows that biggest bang for your buck in improving student performance is supplementing instruction, for example, providing more staffing to enable small group tutoring and smaller class sizes.

We have seen encouraging early evidence of the impact of supplemental instructional support at Amidon-Bowen. Last year was the first year that Amidon-Bowen employed both a reading specialist and a math intervention coach. The math intervention coach provides small group and intensive tutoring to roughly 30 low-performing students in grades 4 and 5. The reading specialist provides intensive tutoring to 25 low-performing students in grades 2 to 5. The initial results are promising: a higher percentage of students receiving additional math support met their middle-of-the-year growth targets compared to students who did not receive the additional support. 80% of those who met with the reading specialist met their growth goals, and average gains for “below basic” students who met with the reading specialist were higher than those of similarly low-performing students who did not receive this support.

Despite this progress, we’ve been told by DCPS to not expect these positions to be continued in future years. One of these positions was funded with at-risk funds; the other was gifted to us because we could not afford it in our budget.

If we could focus all of our at-risk funding (~$500K per year) on instructional supports with a direct tie to student achievement, we believe our school could make significant academic progress. Instead our at-risk funding is used to cover legally mandated special education (even though the majority of our at-risk population are not students in need of special education services) and other positions that should be covered under a base budget.

Lastly, transparency and other requirements related to at-risk funds should apply to all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) across both sectors to ensure all at-risk students are getting the supplemental support they need and deserve.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

[1] School budgets should be equally funded according to the comprehensive staffing model before at-risk funds are allocated. In Title 1, this is called “Title 1 neutral” and is guidance we follow every year. Instead, in DC it’s easy to tell which schools receive at-risk funds before they’ve been allocated. The budgets of schools with high percentages of at-risk students have holes in core staffing. DCPS then uses at-risk funds to fill these manufactured gaps. Large gaps in core staffing only exist at our schools most in need.

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