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School Transparency Bills: Discussion with Councilmember Allen – May 20, 2019

Summary of Discussion with Councilmember Allen regarding School Transparency Bills. Meeting was hosted by the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization on Tuesday, May 20, 2019.

Resources:

 

Background behind the drafting of the Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 (introduced by Charles Allen):

  • Public accountability and transparency are important
  • Meant to bring parity between DCPS and DCPCSB and require ALL LEAs (DCPS, KIPP, BASIS, etc) to be subject to OMA and FOIA
  • Follows recommendations and best practices established by National Alliance for Charter Schools vis a vis Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Open Meetings Act (OMA)
  • Talked w/ charter school parents who are surprised FOIA and OMA do not apply to their school boards
  • School leaders looking for transparency and voice
  • In terms of administrative burden, when we look at other school systems, there do not seem to be a lot of FOIA requests
  • Hearings are split. June 26 is School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019,; Oct 2 for CM Allen’s Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019  expecting both conversations to be similar, including public testimony.

Discussion:

Resources needed to support LEAs in FOIA compliance:

  • CM Allen and colleagues want to think creatively around accountability and transparency and willing to support resources towards LEAs and DCPCSB in fulfilling FOIA requirements.
    • *EmpowerEd Research reflects that subjecting schools to FOIA is endorsed by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools and data show it hasn’t been cumbersome for schools in the least. There are no states that provides support funds to local LEA’s to comply with FOIA since it is usually such a small percentage of someone’s existing job. In EmpowerEd research calling charter schools across many states, they talked to no school who received more than five FOIA requests in a year.

Competing(?) Bills

  • While there are several school transparency bills on the table, it is possible that elements from each will come together in a synthesized version. It’s likely that the hearings on each bill will yield discussion across all of the bills.

Transparency gaps raised:

  • We’re not asking for any more than what public schools provide. Also, all contractors that do work for the city are subject to FOIA.
  • Families concerned about at risk dollars, transparency, is money there for my child being used for my child? If there’s an issue, will we be able to FOIA that? These are public dollars. If passed, will it be properly funded the right way to be implemented?
    • FOIA may not be able to help with this (or other issues) directly, but allows communities to be empowered to ask the questions and sunshine on govt.
  • Monument Academy, sexual assaults, weapons charges and allegations have yielded mixed responses vis a vis transparency. In situations where something wrong is at the school, what could bill do to ensure transparency? CM Allen: When Monument was coming in, there was pushback from neighbors, so stood up for Monument. Does having ability to have more information bring transparency? Some issues described come up against criminal justice system, which we also need to be sensitive to.
  • Is it possible to get a fiscal impact statement for transparency bill? Can we FOIA DCPS and ask how much spent on FOIA? CM Allen: Typically, fiscal impact statement not prepared in advance of a hearing. However, just because FOIA requires resources, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. From agency side, transparency is a cost of doing business.
  • Wish DCPS and DCPCSB get on the same page. It would be so much easier for parents. Parents have kids in both sectors, it would be easier to stay on top of everything happening. Education dollars are significant and affecting a lot of kids. If we take away labels, they are all DC kids. Where is curriculum? Where are the teachers?
  • There are less restrictions on public funds – none of the bills put the same restrictions on at-risk funds across DCPS and charters.
  • Teachers would like for more information sharing so they are more protected: care about how schools are spending money, compensation (no pay scale, equity concerns), how our schools are governed – unless at a school that prioritizes teacher and parent voice.

Possible solutions to DCPCSB FOIA compliance structure:

  • (DCOGC) Recommendation for DCPCSB to serve as FOIA facilitator for LEAs. The way this can work is that while FOIA doesn’t let you reach private entities, but if it’s required that LEAs turn over their information to the DCPCSB, if you don’t get the records; you want, you can appeal to the Office of Open Govt and compel the DCPCSB to turn over the documents. It makes sense for DCPCSB to develop disclosure policy.
  • The way it currently works, you are unable to FOIA the contractor and what power does DCPCSB have to get info from LEAs?
  • Answer is for DCPCSB to include in charter the provision that requires school to turn over records to the board.

Outreach around bills

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