Testimony to the Committee of the Whole — June 3, 2021 Education Budget Hearing
Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Members of the Committee of the Whole for this opportunity to provide testimony. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education.
There is a great deal to like about the Mayor’s FY22 Budget Proposal on education — investments in school-based health and mental health, in Safe Passage improvements, in evidence-based tutoring and in career awareness & work-based learning for middle and high school students.
I will use my time to ask the Council to use this FY22 Budget season as an opportunity to think BIG. You have a significant opportunity to build this COVID recovery budget as a lever to create lasting structural change to benefit the children and families of the District for years to come.
Here are three ways the Council can adjust the budget for such an impact:
First, the Council can ensure that federal funding allocated to education initiatives is braided and blended with local funding streams. You have heard testimony today from Under 3 DC about how such a leveraged approach could be game-changing for the sustainability of a fairly compensated early childhood workforce. The same idea holds true for any number of federal rescue fund investments in this budget. While we are all mindful of funding cliffs in spending federal rescue funds, braiding and blending with local funds will provide a path towards using these considerable investments to build sustainable, structural changes to how we do education in DC.
Second, the Council can be sure not to miss opportunities for small local investments that can have lasting impacts on our education landscape. One such example here is REPP DC, the proposal from EmpowerEd to diversify the DC educator workforce by providing pathways for both para-educators and current high school students to become DC lead teachers. The cost of this proposal is $1.3M, or roughly 4% of the budget of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education. A truly modest investment on the part of the DC Council can help the District be prepared to leverage future federal funding to fill DC schools with DC educators from the ranks of our own students and para-educators.
Finally, and perhaps the biggest and most bold move the Council can make is to ensure that all significant investments in the budget are designed to truly center equity. An increase in the UPSFF is beneficial to all students, but a full funding of the “at-risk” weight would be a more equitable approach to ensuring adequate funds for students who need more support. As you heard in testimony earlier this morning, a similar equity approach could — and should — be taken with the $264M currently allocated for learning acceleration. Targeting these funds for support — both academic & socio-emotional well-being — of our most vulnerable students in the wake of COVID is an equitable and just approach to using these funds. Students who are English Language Learners (ELLs), receiving special education services or designated “at risk” must be prioritized in the use of these funds. The FAIR proposal described by Josh Boots in his testimony is both a smart funding approach and an apt acronym for how we should be thinking about this year’s budget investments — fair use of our public resources means investments which MOST benefit our most vulnerable children and families.