Mary Levy Testimony – Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019 – October 2, 2019

TESTIMONY BEFORE THE COMMITTEE OF THE WHOLE AND THE COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COUNCIL

 Joint Public Hearing on B23-0199, the “Public School Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” and B23-0281, the “Public Charter School Closure Amendment Act of 2019”

Mary Levy      October 2, 2019

As an education finance lawyer, a budget and policy analyst, and a long-ago DCPS parent, I have spent almost 40 years dealing with DCPS transparency issues and over 20 years considering charter school issues.  After studying both the Public School Transparency Act and the School Based Budgeting bill, which I understand will be marked up next week, I urge that the Council enact the first, or incorporate its substance in full into the latter.

Charter schools need open board meetings, teacher representation on their boards, and FOIA.

I support these measures for all the reasons that you will hear over and over today, but I will highlight only two:

  • In a system of choice, families need full information in order to make wise choices. The record of charter school closures – 43 in ten years for many sad reasons — indicates that important information has not been available. Full information needs to be built in or choice does not work well.
  • Any school closing disrupts student education and causes pain and anxiety to families. Charter school closings take place after damage is done. They should be rare, but are not.  Public Charter School Board activities, while necessary and important have proven insufficient to stop problems leading to closings.  Likewise the charter boards. Full information and more stakeholder participation in individual charter board oversight and decision-making will help obviate the need to close schools.

As to the School Based Budgeting bill, I have serious concerns as to whether, as introduced, it will produce the transparency that both the Council and the public want and need.  These are specified in my testimony here of June 26.  There are tremendous deficiencies in DCPS fiscal transparency, among others:

  • Two sets of books, with inconsistent formats, definitions and numbers for local school budgets.
  • The basis of specific local school allocations of general education teachers and special education personnel is unavailable.
  • The only budget data for central offices, that in the FY 2020 Approved Budget, is known to be completely obsolete due to reorganization.
  • There are no data explicating the $25 million FY 2019 budget deficit or its resolution.
  • No enforcement or accountability for disregard of existing budgetary mandates.

The Committee has worked on this bill over the summer but the public has no knowledge of whether and how it has changed going into mark-up, and there is no opportunity to comment on either charter or DCPS transparency.  What is the Committee going to vote on?

 

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