February 1, 2019
Testimony at Council Oversight Roundtable on At Risk Funding Transparency
Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Members of the DC Council for inviting public testimony today. My name is Jessica Sutter and I have the honor of representing Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I am testifying here today as an individual, and not on behalf of the SBOE.
I support the goal of this bill: to help guarantee that the original purpose of the at-risk funding mechanism—promoting equity of opportunity in education—is fully realized. Increasing equity of opportunity for all young people is why so many educators decided to work in or with public schools. But we have not yet realized the goal of providing all DC children with equitable opportunities to succeed and I believe that some modifications to the bill can help us get a bit closer than we are today.
I have three requests to modify the bill as currently written.
First – there is simply a need for more funding to serve students who are identified as “at-risk.” We know this. The 2014 Adequacy Study from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education recommended for $3906 per student identified as “at-risk.” Our current funding is nowhere near that. In order to best serve the diverse needs of our diverse student body in Ward 6, and all across the city, we need the UPSFF to be adjusted to weight “at-risk” funding at the recommended level. This will benefit early childhood students at Amidon-Bowen ES and AppleTree PCS, it will benefit middle school students at Eliot-Hine and it will benefit young people in the alternative education programming at Kingsman Academy. All Ward 6 students – and all students District-wide – who meet the definition of being “at risk” deserve these funds as a matter of educational equity. I ask that you increase the funding to the recommended level and ensure that school leaders have the power to spend it in ways that can best serve the needs of children in their care.
Second, I’d recommend streamlining the reporting on how at-risk funds are spent. As written, the bill would require LEAs to provide reports to the Council each year that explain how each school used its at-risk funds. Rather than create an additional report, it would be great to see this information reported as part of the DC School Report Card, allowing students and families a chance to gain an understanding of schools’ budgeting priorities and spending histories. This would increase school budget and funding transparency – a matter for which parents and teachers across the city are currently advocating. DC PAVE has selected school funding and budget transparency as one of their key advocacy issues for 2019.
The ESSA Task Force of the SBOE is working with OSSE to establish how data on per pupil expenditures will be displayed on the School Report Card (starting in December 2019), the at-risk funding expenditures could, perhaps be displayed in the same section. This would streamline information for the public, especially families, and it could reduce the administrative burden on schools that are saddled with many reporting requirements to their LEA, to OSSE, the federal government, and other external partners and grantors.
Finally, adding a standardized set of terms and definitions—like a common set of expenditure categories—to the language of this bill would ensure all LEAs are reporting the same data points and pieces of information. It would also allow for easier at-a-glance understanding of how schools use these funds to promote both well-being and improved achievement among at-risk students, and better (if still limited) comparisons across schools. Common categories would allow for public transparency in considering how schools spend these funds, while also acknowledging that the kinds of expenditures that benefit students classified as “at risk” are often hard to tie directly to immediate (i.e. – within year) academic outcomes.
I thank you for your consideration of these recommendations and for allowing me time to speak today.