It’s The New Year: Let’s Enforce Our Public Education Laws and Regs.

Tis’ the season for celebration, so let’s celebrate the wonderful laws and regulations we have here in DC regarding public education!

Well, when they are enforced, that is:

1. At risk dollars. These funds ($80 million total in FY16) are intended for the poorest of DC public school kids, to supplement (not supplant!) their schools’ regular funding and thus support our city’s most vulnerable children in targeted ways.

To ensure the money gets to those who need it most, the enabling legislation requires DCPS to submit a report annually on the use of these funds.

This annual reporting has been a rather interesting exercise, in that the first few years have shown either blatant misuse or occasional, if widespread, inappropriate use.

Moreover, the enabling legislation does not require DC charter schools to report their use of at risk dollars. This is a clear oversight, as charter schools educate nearly half of all DC schoolchildren and have almost as many at risk students as DCPS.

And what charter schools have for at risk funding isn’t mere pocket change: In FY16, $35 million of the total $80 million at risk pot was given to DC public charter schools.

Given the misuse of at risk funds by DCPS, you would think there would be deep interest in ensuring that our other sector of public schools uses this money well.

Sadly, the charter board has been reluctant to pursue accounting for at risk monies, citing the “burdensome” task presented to charter schools to track their own public money.

Ignoring the (skewed) optics of one public school system being “burdened” with accounting for public money that the other system isn’t, there is a provision of that same law that actually compels the mayor to report on the use of all at risk funds (boldface is mine):

“Beginning January 30, 2016, the Mayor shall submit to the Council a report every 2 years that reviews the [per pupil funding] Formula and includes recommendations for revisions to the Formula based upon a study of actual costs of education in the District of Columbia, research in education and education finance, and public comment.

(b) The study of actual costs of education pursuant to subsection (a) of this section shall include but not be limited to the following:

(1) The relation of funding levels to student outcomes;

(2) Maintenance of effort in specified areas of focus to promote continuity of effective practices;

(3) Improved techniques for determining specific levels of funding needed to provide adequate special education services;

(4) Improved measures of change in the cost of education; and

(5) A review of the costs associated with serving at-risk students and of how at-risk students are identified.”

Despite the mayor’s report being due about a year ago, no one enforced that deadline.

Hmm.

That mayoral report now has a new due date of the end of this month (i.e., January 2017). The uniform per student funding formula (UPSFF) working group has been working on this and associated recommendations for the mayor, which are also due out in January.

2. The DCPS food contract bid protest. By the data available on the DC contract appeals board website (search case P-1017), this protest has not moved at all since summer, when it was filed, alleging that the awarding was not done lawfully.

Now that we are almost halfway through a school year with a protest unmoved since summer (thus allowing the school food contract bid winner (Sodexo) to literally take the cake–and sandwiches and breakfast and salad bars), it appears that nothing will happen anytime soon.

Of course, there is a work-around for this apparent stalemate: the city council could exercise its authority and not renew Sodexo’s contract for next school year. After all, it’s not like we don’t have ample evidence that such contracting out for food is costly and that DCPS has neglected its kitchens, when it could actually use them much more cost-effectively by producing school food in-house.

But responding to any of that means council and mayoral action, well, NOW.

If the council waits until June to look into food services in DCPS, to “meet the policy mandates of the DC Council” (according to that October auditor’s report), councilmembers may very well might find themselves in a rush to renew the existing contract, as the specter of kids not having school food will inevitably be raised–which is, if you recall, how we got into this mess in the first place.

(Apparently, the optics of quick action are much better if you convey the impression that helpless children will go without food but for your quick action–even when that isn’t the case at all and when such quick action precludes any means to actually do right by the kids and their school food.)

Related: Back in the hazy days of summer, when no complete form of Sodexo’s DCPS school food contract was publicly available, I filed a FOIA request and got this and this.

Behind the inaction and blank spaces, there appears to be a lot not said–enough to fill a (check?) book.

3. The Healthy Schools Act. This is such a nice, pretty piece of legislation, full of sunshine and hope and health (clean water, good food, exercise) for all DC children. Too bad DC reality had to happen to it:

–No oversight of, or penalties for ignoring, the law’s requirements for physical activity in public schools;

–Misdirection of the funds embedded in the law for healthy meals to pay for charter school water testing;

–Not getting feedback from students, staff, and parents on school food before selecting the current DCPS food contractor, as the law requires;

–No discernible enforcement of the act’s requirement for healthy food in all public schools.

Such non-enforcement sounds downright unhealthy.

4. The chancellor selection process. To her credit, in selecting the new DCPS chancellor our current mayor did more to involve the public, and in a more public way, than her two predecessors put together, when they selected chancellors Henderson and Rhee without any involvement of the public, as required by law.

But the one piece of that law’s enforcement that is still missing from the selection process this school year (and will likely be missing for all time) is the list of candidates the mayor considered, their resumes, and the consultation with the committee the mayor created to advise her about them.

(Rest assured, however, the consulting group the mayor hired to search for a new chancellor was paid handsomely–even if their contract was not given in response to a FOIA request and is still not publicly available.)

5. Condition and capacity assessments of DC public schools. DC law requires that DGS perform an annual condition assessment of all DC public school buildings, both charter and DCPS, for the purpose of better facilities planning and use.

But no DC charter school has had such an assessment.

Rather, charter schools self-assess their conditions and capacities. Such self-assessments have been used by the deputy mayor for education (DME) to determine school utilizations for charter schools.

But DCPS schools do not have such leeway to self-assess anything in their buildings.

The result is, not surprisingly, that many charter schools find they do not have enough room–whereas some DCPS schools are considered by the DME to be in better condition, and have more capacity, than anyone occupying those schools would ever agree with (hello, Murch! hello, Watkins!)

Fair?

Not so much–especially given that DCPS school buildings (not charter buildings, by the way) have been closed when deemed under capacity, decimating feeder patterns and neighborhoods.

Since the law also demands that all closed DCPS school buildings are offered to charter schools, the effect of this non-enforcement of the law regarding public school building assessment is to turn over public real estate to privatized interests without any oversight whatsoever–and likely with faulty data to boot.

To his credit, education committee chair David Grosso asked both the deputy mayor for education and the charter board head this past summer how charter school building self-assessment complies with the law—and got no answer.

No word if there has ever been any follow-up.

3 thoughts on “It’s The New Year: Let’s Enforce Our Public Education Laws and Regs.

  1. I think “at-risk” funds make the same mistake that the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act (the 1964 ESEA) made. It attempted to alleviate poverty by sending more federal money to schools with high numbers of poor children. It has not worked as intended as evidenced by the growing numbers of poor people over the past several decades. The “at-risk” funds law follows the sames logic: poverty arises from schools, not the deficiencies in our economy, therefore, it can be alleviated in the schools with these new categories of poor kids receiving these “extra” funds.
    I don’t think that’s going to work any better than the ESEA has even if the “at-risk” funds law is meticulously enforced.
    However, I do agree that since it is on the books, it should be immediately and fully enforced because that is the only way to determine whether it is effective or not. And the DCPS chancellor nor the DME nor the charter school board should have the power to overide the laws.
    There are two other things involved here that I think are important:
    One, the entire legal underpinning of charter schools is their exemption from the jurisdiction’s education laws in general, so that there is a way of thinking among a goodly number of people that the city’s education laws are not to be respected or followed.
    Two, the Public Education Reform Amendment Act that gave the mayor control of the schools has created a Council that is playing the role of a Board of Education while it is largely dependent on the honest reporting of a number of new agencies among whom the responsibilities for complying with the education laws are divided in a more or less higgeldy-piggeldy fashion so that the education governance infrastructure is one in which the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.
    Those two things together are, in my view, why so many things–safe drinking water, timely, fiscally responsible modernization, school food and all the things you’ve mentioned– are falling through the cracks. Too many people are making too many decisions about too many things without any coordination among them.
    PERAA has been evaluated in the formal study done by the National Research Council in 2015. The Mayor and the Council can read for themselves the deficiencies found in PERAA’s implementation and results. But it seems that rather than be guided by this knowledge to make PERAA a better law, or at least a better enforced law, they are content with the current governance of public education in DC and see no need to truly review or change anything.
    Your post, though, does give those interested a good list to use in testimony on the performance evaluation hearings coming in the next few months and that’s a good thing!

    Like

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