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

I am Valerie Jablow, a Ward 6 DCPS parent. As the subject of this hearing is transparency in our schools, I wanted to share some recent examples of how our schools and their governance are not transparent:

–All videos of charter board meetings before 2018 are gone, with no back-ups. For some meetings, there are just notes, not official transcripts.[1]

–At risk fund reports for charter schools do not account for all schools, and uses of the money appear wildly different and not always appropriate.[2]

–FOIA requests made clear that the executive director of the charter board urged the schools his agency regulates to lobby against the discipline bill.[3]

–FOIA requests also revealed that education leaders privately planned a middle school at Banneker–well before the council’s decision on a middle school for Shaw there.[4]

–There are no public records of visits to the mayor and council, while an ed reform-supported group (not registered as a lobbying organization BTW) buys council members and staff breakfast and lunch every year.[5]

–More than a quarter of all charter board meetings between October 18, 2017, and October 31, 2018 were closed to the public.[6]

–Teacher turnover within our schools is only self-reported at best–and not accurately.[7]

–Chavez and Monument charter schools closed without parents or teachers involved in the decisions,[8] while Mundo Verde blocked parents from entering and hired a consultant to intimidate unionizing teachers.[9]

—Sexual abuse in one school’s aftercare exposed lack of OSSE oversight in vetting aftercare employees elsewhere.[10]

I have documented many more recent examples in my written testimony.[11]

This chart,[12] created by EmpowerEd, shows in red just a few areas where the public has no access to data or decisionmaking in our schools—DCPS on the left, charters on the right.

I appreciate how the two bills that are the subject of this hearing explore budget transparency (specifically with respect to at risk funds). As some of my examples show, this is long overdue.

But my examples also show the urgency of making this effort at transparency much stronger, especially as only one of the bills mentions the Open Meetings Act (OMA) applying to charter schools, and nothing about FOIA.

FOIA and OMA are the most basic, first steps in school transparency. Given that almost half of our students attend charter schools, FOIA and OMA for all our schools ensures all DC families have equal access to information.[13]

Ironically, the one bill that would ensure FOIA applies to all publicly funded schools is not part of this hearing! That bill is 0199, which provides for charter school

–Transparency in contracts greater than $25,000;

–Complying with FOIA and the Open Meetings Act; and

–Teachers and students represented on boards.

FOIA for all our schools is not a big ask: Last year, DCPS and the charter board fielded less than 300 FOIA requests. The cost for FOIA requests in the entire DC government was $3 million out of a $14 BILLION budget.

Please take the first step of transparency by ensuring that all the provisions of 0199 are included in the bills that are the subject of this hearing today.

Thank you.

——————-

[1] The destruction of videos was communicated to me by Tomeika Bowden on April 29, 2019, in response to a question from me about being unable to access the video of the June 2017 charter board meeting, which I had once viewed. I have never seen any public announcement of the video destruction. Although Ms. Bowden said there are transcripts available, this meeting has only notes, not a transcript.

[2] For instance, on the most recent report available on the charter board website, for SY 18-19 (https://www.dcpcsb.org/sites/default/files/At-Risk%20Funding%20Report%2018-19%201-22-2019%20NW.pdf), the entry for Digital Pioneers mentions a $20,000 expenditure for 5 uniforms.

[3] See the email here: https://twitter.com/VJablow/status/1118491788417884161

[4] https://educationdc.net/2019/04/17/what-is-the-plan-for-banneker-high-schools-current-building-or-conflicts-of-interest-and-the-middle-school-program/

[5] https://educationdc.files.wordpress.com/2019/06/pavefood.pdf

[6] There were 7 closed meetings in that time, representing 27% of the total in that period. By contrast, there were no closed meetings between March 2012 and September 2017.

[7] The September 2018 report by Mary Levy for the state board of education showed this.

[8] See here for Chavez: https://thedcline.org/2019/05/20/christian-herr-with-our-school-closing-in-june-chavez-prep-educators-deserve-adequate-severance/

See here for Monument:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/leadership-of-troubled-dc-public-boarding-school-votes-to-close-facility-at-end-of-academic-year/2019/06/05/c98a42aa-86f2-11e9-a870-b9c411dc4312_story.html?utm_term=.dd423b9dfc25

[9] For more information about both efforts at Mundo Verde, see

https://twitter.com/dcacts/status/1121554429545787392

and here:

https://twitter.com/Ruth4Schools/status/1126822629803986944

[10] https://educationdc.net/2019/06/17/documenting-addressing-sexual-misconduct-in-dcs-publicly-funded-schools/

[11] Here are some more recent examples, all documented here: https://educationdc.net/2019/06/25/fear-of-foia/

–Lead has been found in yet more school playground surfaces—but testing was not done, nor initially reported, by any city agency.

–Who owns the building of St Coletta’s—paid for in large part by DC taxpayer money–is unclear.

–Discovery in a lawsuit made clear that the executive director of the charter board mocked the suicide prevention act–with the assistance of a private charter advocacy group.

–What control individual DCPS principals have over their own budgets and buildings appears determined by politics as well as power, with DCPS keeping two sets of books.

–The expansion of Washington Latin was not made known publicly until its application with the charter board in April—despite having been announced in a blog a year earlier.

–According to investigative journalists, DC schoolchildren have been subjected to unusual, harsh, and detrimental treatment, including seclusion and restraints and restricted bathroom passes.

–Also according to investigative journalists, there’s an ongoing grading and graduation scandal at Somerset that remains unexamined by city officials.

–A member of the charter board, Naomi Shelton, recently took employment with KIPP, which appears to violate two sections of DC code.

[12] https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/72d508_793eaf468cbd44c9bccf742fc0dad0ee.pdf

[13] FOIA and OMA are just a start. Here is a list of other items that would give transparency and equity to DC families:

Students, teachers, and parents part of all school decisions & boards

  • All contracts with schools available
  • Teacher retention data verified and available
  • Teacher experience data verified and available
  • The amount and use of marketing money in our schools.
  • Data for lead in water testing
  • Data about lead in playgrounds

 

Comments?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s