Help DC’s Most Vulnerable Students on October 27

This coming Thursday October 27, at 10 am at the Wilson Building, the education committee of the DC city council will hold a hearing on the use and allocation of at risk funds in public schools. You can sign up to testify here before 5 pm on Tuesday October 25–or by calling 202-724-8061. (Written testimony can be submitted to Committee on Education, DC Council, Suite 116, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004.)

That same day (but an hour later, at 11 am), the council’s health and human services committee will hold a hearing on extending benefits under the welfare-to work program called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF). Sign-up is here (or by contacting Malcolm Cameron, Legislative Analyst, 202-741-0909 or via e-mail at mcameron@dccouncil.us).

These hearings address perhaps the most urgent issue in public education in DC: the deep poverty of many DC public school students and its many ill effects.

TANF benefits for DC’s neediest families have been slated to increase–but absent a plan to extend the time limits on those benefits, the families of about 13,000 DC kids will reach their TANF limits next year. That means no fiscal recourse–and thousands of kids stressed and even traumatized as a result.

According to the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI), a working group convened by the mayor will shortly recommend that the TANF time limits be abolished. But it remains to be seen how that recommendation will be translated into policy.

The creation of at risk funding in DC’s public schools was one way to address some of the difficulties facing DC’s poorest students. In 2013, this funding modified the uniform per student funding formula, specifically providing more funds for so-called at risk students: homeless; in foster care; high school students at least one year older than expected age for grade level; or those qualifying for TANF or SNAP funds.

But the use–and abuse–of these at risk funds is long overdue for public sunshine.

The DCFPI recently wrote a blog piece about a study on DCPS use of at risk funds. It found that almost half the time, DCPS used those at risk monies for things it should have been funding otherwise–a violation of the law that created at risk funding.

What that otherwise fabulous study neglected to outline was how the other 44% of at risk funds were spent in FY16–amounting to a cool $35 million.

That is because there is no good accounting for that $35 million: it went to charter schools, which were not entirely responsive on their use of those funds.

Indeed, only 49% of the charter schools surveyed by the charter board responded in any way–even though all DC public schools are obliged to report on their use of these funds.

(Not unrelated: the group at OSSE that sets policy regarding the uniform per student funding formula is weighted toward charter schools and interests.)

One can hope these October 27 hearings will cast disinfecting sunshine in all quarters and change the landscape for the better for DC’s most vulnerable students.

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