Written Testimony Submitted to the District of Columbia Council Committee on Education
District of Columbia Public Charter School Board FY20 Budget Oversight Hearing
April 4, 2019
Thank you Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Grosso and Members of the Committee on Education for holding the opportunity to provide testimony today. My name is Jessica Sutter and I am honored to represent Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education.
Ward 6 is home to 16 public charter school campuses. Approximately 40 percent of public school-aged students in the ward attend public charter schools in the District. I submitted testimony for last week’s DC Public Schools Oversight Hearing for DCPS and I am here today to share thoughts and concerns regarding the budget for DC PCSB and the public charter LEAs which they oversee.
First, I am pleased that the Mayor’s budget includes a 2.2% increase in the UPSFF and the Facilities Allowance. This increase is necessary to make sure that all students and schools in the District have the resources they need to provide the kind of education we know they need. However, funding for all public schools is still below the levels recommended in the 2013 Adequacy Study; increasing education funding to the recommended levels is something I hope the Council will continue to consider.
Second, I am glad that the Mayor included $6 million for school-based mental health services in her budget. We know that far too many students in the District experience trauma at early ages and access to school-based mental health care and trauma-informed instruction isn’t something “nice to have” for our schools, it is something essential to ensure that all students can access the academic programming they need to access the futures they envision for themselves. I urge the Council to go further and allocate additional funding by increasing the at-risk weight to 0.37 and by increasing funding for the School Safety and Positive Climate Fund, as recommended by PAVE in their #DoMorewith54 campaign.
I appreciate the provisions outlined in Councilmember Grosso’s School Based Budgeting and Transparency Act of 2019. Specifically, I applaud the decision to require the publication of both budgets and expenditures for public charter schools. This will help stakeholders more clearly understand the way public dollars are actually spent in public charter schools. I reiterate my interest, shared at an earlier public roundtable on at-risk funding, in designating common categories for reporting how at-risk funding dollars are spent by schools. I think setting up such a system will help further clarify for the public how dollars are spent in service of supporting students with significant needs.
I have two significant concerns that want to bring to the Council’s attention: regarding payment system reform and facilities for public charter schools.
I am glad that Councilmember Grosso’s proposed legislation seeks to address concerns about DCPS schools experiencing enrollment increases throughout the course of the school year and failing to receive adequate funding to support serving additional students. Moving the count date to March 30 is well-intended, however, the District must go further and shift the schedule and way in which both DCPS and public charter schools actually receive student-level funding. An ideal payment system would ensure that both DCPS and charter schools are paid on actual enrollment counts, that counts are taken multiple times throughout the year, and that school payments throughout the year are adjusted based on the changes in counts. This would be the most equitable way to ensure that all schools have the funds they need to serve the students in their care. Such a system would also incentivize mid-year enrollment by charter schools (i.e., accepting students new to DC) and hopefully reduce churn schools see via sector-switching students mid-year.
Finally, I am growing concerned about school planning, capital funding and facilities access for charter schools, specifically within Ward 6. Several public charter schools currently calling Ward 6 home are struggling to keep their existing facilities. Eagle Academy received a temporary reprieve on the loss of their lease at their Capitol Riverfront Campus, but is at the mercy of commercial real estate availability and pricing in one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in DC. Appletree PCS is losing the current location for its Southwest Campus at the end of this school year and has been unable to find a new location while awaiting completion of its new permanent home in 2022. Public charter schools, unlike DCPS schools, are not eligible for “swing space” while their facilities are being constructed or renovated. For Appletree, this means the school will close while awaiting its new facility, displacing 100 early childhood students. At the same time, no new publicly funded early childhood classrooms have opened in SW Ward 6, but construction cranes and new residential housing continue to proliferate.
Later this month, DC PCSB will hear from 11 aspiring charter school operators; six of these mention Ward 6 as a desired location. With this kind of interest in mind, we must be thoughtful about how we grow our public school supply, how we offer families the kinds of programming they are seeking, and how we manage public money and public facilities assets to serve our growing city. I urge the Council to ask all of our LEAs how they are planning for population growth and managing shifts in student populations.
I’ll conclude in the same way as I did for my DCPS testimony: At a time when we know our children need more, we must not give them less. We must invest in our students. We must make our investments equitable. We must correct for past disinvestment in schools and communities. We must create budget processes that allow for meaningful engagement of parents, teachers and school communities. We must ensure that school-based budgets reflect the needs of the students served by those schools. We must do these things because our students are counting on us and their educational lives depend on it.