Written Testimony on B23–0569, the “District of Columbia Public Schools Family and School Community Fundraising Equity Act of 2019” and B23–0365, the “Critical Risk Rate School Funding Designation Act of 2019.”
Thank you Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso and Members of the Committee on Education for offering 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. I submit this testimony today as an individual member and not on behalf of the SBOE.
I’d first like to speak about B23–0569, the “District of Columbia Public Schools Family and School Community Fundraising Equity Act of 2019.”
In all things related to public education in our rapidly gentrifying city, it is my fundamental belief that we must shift towards an equity mindset. Equity is not equality. Equity-based policy should be more akin to reparations, seeking to repair the past damage and neglect accumulated within our education system. Equal funding will not result in evenly distributed access to quality educational opportunities & services. Redistribution of funding and opportunity to benefit students who have for too long had access to less should be the focus of any equity effort in DC education.
To be clear, this bill alone will not achieve the level of reparations our system requires. Public funding equity must be addressed by the Council. But, I would argue that if we are deeply committed to a more equitable DC public education system, any new education policy passed ought to have a clear equity goal. I applaud that this one does.
Specifically, I appreciate the inclusion of the prohibition on requiring “donations” from school families, the prohibition on membership dues to gain access to voting on matters related to the school’s family organization, and the prohibition on PTOs using funds to hire and compensate school staff. The first two provisions would help ensure that no family is excluded from participation in a PTO. The third ensures that schools with significant parental fundraising capacity cannot create work-arounds for the current school budget allocations provided by their LEAs.
I am intrigued by the provision to require that PTOs raising more than $10K must contribute a percentage of funds raised to an “equity fund” to be shared across the District. I have questions about how to operationalize this so that it ensures equity District-wide and not simply within a single LEA.
I’d like the Council to consider ways to expand this legislation to cover PTOs at charter LEAs as well. Over time, DC’s charter schools have grown to serve an increasingly diverse population of students and there are likely similar inequities in PTO fundraising efforts within the charter sector.. The Equity Fund, if established, should be sector agnostic and its proceeds distributed equitably across all schools without access to PTO financial resources.
It is worth noting that, per a GIS map of PTO revenues from SY16–17 created by UDC Professor Amanda Huron, there are 22 PTOS in the District that would be subject to the Equity Fund contribution requirement per the terms of the legislation. Ten of these are Ward 6 schools PTOs. I know that my neighbors and constituents care deeply about equitable funding for our schools and I think that contributing to such an Equity Fund aligns with our Ward 6 education values.
I would next like to speak about B23–0365, the “Critical Risk Rate School Funding Designation Act of 2019.”
Again, I appreciate that the proposed legislation takes a clear position on improving resource equity for students with significant need and the schools which serve them. The Council’s 2013 vote to add an “at-risk” weight to the UPSFF in 2014 was an important step in the direction of funding equity. Raising the funding weight to the level recommended by the Adequacy Study, is another essential step. The creation of a “critical risk rate” seems aligned, but I have questions about the design of this proposal.
First, it does not appear that the bill provides for any new funding for students designated “at-risk.” Does this mean that the intent of the legislation is to take the current amount allocated for students “at-risk” in schools all across the city and instead redirect it to only schools meeting the newly defined “critical at-risk rate?” If that is the case, I have significant concerns.
I have previously testified about several pieces of legislation before the Council designed to improve the way at-risk funds are used and documented by LEAs. I support efforts to better track and inform the public about how at-risk funds are being employed to serve vulnerable students. However, I do not think limiting the number of schools with access to any at-risk funds helps achieve any of the above goals.
Second, I am curious as to how the 70 percent threshold was identified? And whether the Committee has considered the impact of the decision on schools that fall just below the threshold?
It would seem that the theory of action for setting a critical risk rate is this: Schools serving a majority of students with significant needs require exponentially higher levels of resources than schools where vulnerable students make up only a fraction of the total school enrollment. This makes sense to me.
According to OSSE, 47 percent of DC students met the “at-risk” designation in SY1819. Why not draw the line at 50 percent ? Or 60 percent? There are currently 18 Ward 6 schools serving 50 percent or more students designated “at-risk;” Only 3 serve more than 70 percent. Losing all of their at-risk funding would have a significant impact on schools like Digital Pioneers Academy (66%), Eliot-Hine MS (60%), Amidon-Bowen ES (63%), or Richard Wright PCS (63%).
I would like to suggest that the Committee consider a modification of this proposal, using a pro-rated set of “critical risk levels,” akin to the way local special education funding is allocated in the UPSF. Creating risk rate levels with accompanying funding “bumps” that increase with the proportion of students served would meet the same goal as this proposal and serve more schools and students District-wide.
I also implore the Council to adequately fund the existing at-risk weight in the UPSFF for all schools in the forthcoming FY21 budget.
Thank you for your consideration.