Sandra Moscoso Testimony – At-Risk School Funding and School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Acts of 2019 – June 26, 2019

Sandra Moscoso Testimony – Smoscosomills (at) hotmail (dot) com

Public Hearing on B23-0046, the “At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”  And B23-0239, the “School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019”

Committee on Education – June 26, 2019 at 10:00AM, JAWB 412

I’m Sandra Moscoso, a Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan parent, School Without Walls parent and HSA President, and Secretary of the Ward 6 Public Schools Parent Organization. I support the At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 and the suggestions for strengthening offered by fellow parent Danica Petroshius. I support the School Based Budgeting and Transparency Amendment Act of 2019, but recognize it does not go far enough in ensuring students and families have access to critical information collected by schools. I join fellow DC families, teachers, and partners like EmpowerEd in strongly supporting the School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019, and look forward to its hearing in October.

Today, I want to focus on why all publicly funded schools must comply with FOIA. Professionally, I have spent almost a decade working on issues of government transparency, helping and learning from public institutions in Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Sub Saharan Africa. And while I have had the honor of working with colleagues and clients fully committed to transparency, I have also heard every excuse in the book about why public information shouldn’t be shared with citizens. All of those excuses are being murmured in DC and need to be addressed. I will share a few from a list of top 10 excuses put together in 2014 by the Guelph, Ontario City Clerk.

  1. We have data?!?!

We’ve been asked by city officials, including members of council to identify data we want. There is an obsession with itemizing families’ and citizens’ request for information and data. There is also an obsession with evaluating the merits of the information we might want about our children, our families, and our communities. While any given day, families might be asking how their students’ at-risk funds are spent, or whether their child’s testing below proficiency are a one off or represent a school wide need, there are data and information out there today that we might never imagine we’d want. Recent examples include information about lead levels in drinking water and playground turf; or the unthinkable like incidents of sexual misconduct by adults which have hit close to home, in my own daughter’s class. Freedom of information is the most powerful tool families have to support our educators, find opportunities to solve problems, and most importantly, protect our children. Besides, if it relates to our children, our families, our communities, and our taxes fund the work, guess what, it’s our data.

  1. It’s not perfect…it’s not even good…

I agree that we would not want to work in an environment where every word we commit to paper can be scrutinized and there are exemptions in place for this. The reality is that when families are looking for information, it’s to fill in gaps that stand in the way of supporting our students. No one is looking for typos, grammatical errors, or perfection. And if we find something wrong that leads an agency to correct data, then you’re welcome. More eyes on data means higher quality of information.

  1. Its a security risk or data privacy risk! 

This is a very valid concern and I’m glad that agencies and LEAs are taking this seriously. OCTO’s Chief Data Officer, for example, is doing good work around developing data privacy policies, which I hope everyone in this room and online will weigh in on. Furthermore, there are FOIA exemptions in place under DC Code 2-534 which also protect privacy. Privacy should not stand in the way of informed communities.

  1. Someone would need a professional degree just to understand it.

This excuse is not only condescending, but it wrong. Who better to understand and provide ground truth and context to data, than the real data owners.

  1. This is going to be soooooo much work – I don’t have the time!

This is everyone’s favorite urban legend, when in fact, research by EmpowerEd shows that in schools in the 39 states where charter schools comply with FOIA, no school polled received more than 5 FOIA requests in a single year. As our friends from the DC Open Government Coalition remind us, freedom of information compliance is the cost of doing business when your business is funded by taxpayers. 

  1. We already sell it…oh, we don’t?  Well…we should!

Well, this is a good question. It depends on how you look at it. Publicly funded but privately run schools have access to data and information. That information is leveraged for what the Public Charter School Board refers to as market share (I prefer to call them students). Public funds used to build public schools, which generate information and data. Isn’t this information then owned by the public? It’s our information and we have a right to it.

  1. We don’t know what “they” will find…

We know what we will find. Information and data about our students, which can enable us to protect them, and better collaborate with schools to educate them. We will also find our data, because it’s ours.

  1. If we give it to them they will just want more.

This may be true, but what schools get out of it is higher quality data, the opportunity to leverage communities to support students, and potential efficiencies. If we want more, it’s because we are engaged and want to be partners, or because something is wrong that needs to be addressed. We may also want more because, after all, it’s our data.

  1. It will be twisted around to make us look bad!

This may be true and it’s a risk, but looking bad is a small price to pay when we have lives at stake. The risk to student safety, risk of inadequate resources, risk of failing students in their pursuit of education is much much greater.

  1. No, it’s mine and you can’t have it!

This is not true, and we all know it. Our taxes, our families, our communities, our information.

Thank you for your time.

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