Testimony for DCPS FY22 Community Budget Hearing (November 23, 2020)
Thank you, Chancellor Ferebee and the DCPS Budget Team, for the chance to speak this evening. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education.
A year ago I sat before you in Maury Elementary to testify about resource inequity in our schools. I shared my concerns that our neighborhood schools are not an equal opportunity public resource but rather institutions that mirror broader inequities in the District.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought those resource inequities into stark relief. While all of our students and families struggle with the challenges of life in a pandemic, some families are able to provide access to high-speed internet service, full-time adult supervision for at-home learning, and even “learning pods” to provide children with socialization and enrichment opportunities. Other families are muddling through with inconsistent connectivity, shared devices, guardians working essential jobs outside the home during the school day and children who have been isolated from peers for nearly nine months.
As DCPS builds its FY22 budget, I hope that you will keep three things in mind:
- Build a budget TRULY designed for equity. The next school year will begin with a mix of students who have lived vastly different lives during the pandemic. It will also likely begin with significant funding reductions. DCPS must build a budget which prioritizes children who have been most distanced from robust educational opportunities for the past year. This will mean allocating significantly more resources to students categorized as at-risk, to students with disabilities and to students who are learning English. It will also mean re-thinking staffing, shifting resources from Central Office to serve students at the school level.
- Build an equity-driven budget that provides flexibility for school leaders to staff buildings in ways that meet the needs of their students. During the pandemic DCPS has been criticized for failing to listen to those closest to problems to inform solutions. Please begin your FY22 budget season in a posture of listening. Listen to those closest to the needs of the students you serve. Empower your school leaders to design school-based approaches to meet student needs in their budgets.
- Build a budget with a vision for the kind of education every child in DC deserves. I hope that the pandemic has forced us to see that many children were not thriving in the schools which shut down last March. All DC children deserve schools with access to well-rounded programming — PE, recess, arts, music, world languages, science, social studies, field trips. All students and families also deserve access to resources that can help meet their socio-emotional needs; schools must have the personnel and resources to, at a minimum, serve as referral hubs for health, mental health and other critical support services.
I’ll close in the same way I did last year: Can we envision ways to serve every child in each of our schools in ways that are truly equitable? If we fail to see every school and student as worthy of equitable opportunities, if we fail to start our budgeting from an equitable foundation, we will fail our students. Thank you.