Act NOW To Save Our Schools In The FY21 Budget!

Next Tuesday, July 7, the DC council will take a first vote on the FY21 budget and the budget support act. The council’s final vote on the budget will be July 28.

All of which means there is limited time to appeal to council as well as to Mayor Bowser to ensure that the following inequities are dealt with quickly before they are memorialized. Pick a topic–literally, any (or all!) of the following–and write, call, and tweet out today, tomorrow, this weekend, and Monday.

Here’s a helpful list of emails of council, the mayor, and their education points of contact:

Phil Mendelson, pmendelson@dccouncil.us (education committee co-chair)
Christina Setlow, csetlow@dccouncil.us
LeKisha Jordan, ljordan@dccouncil.us

David Grosso, dgrosso@dccouncil.us (at large; co-chair of education committee)
Akeem Anderson, aanderson@dccouncil.us

Anita Bonds, abonds@dccouncil.us (at large; education committee member)
David Meadows, dmeadows@dccouncil.us

Charles Allen, callen@dccouncil.us (W6; education committee member)
Laura Marks, lmarks@dccouncil.us

Trayon White, twhite@dccouncil.us (W8; education committee member)
Tracey Jackson, tgjackson@dccouncil.us

Robert White, rwhite@dccouncil.us (at large; education committee member)
Angela Fowlkes, afowlkes@dccouncil.us

Mary Cheh, mcheh@dccouncil.us (W3)
Michael Porcello, mporcello@dccouncil.us

Elissa Silverman, esilverman@dccouncil.us (at large)
Sam Rosen-Amy, srosenamy@dccouncil.us

Brandon Todd, btodd@dccouncil.us (W4)
Manny Geraldo, mgeraldo@dccouncil.us

Brianne Nadeau, bnadeau@dccouncil.us (W1)
Aamir Mansoor, amansoor@dccouncil.us

Vince Gray, vgray@dccouncil.us (W7)
Terrance Norflis, tnorflis@dccouncil.us

Kenyan McDuffie, kmcduffie@dccouncil.us (W5)
Brian McClure, bmcclure@dccouncil.us

Brooke Pinto, bpinto@dccouncil.us; brooke@brookepintoforward2.com (W2)
Staffer, ella@brookepintoforward2.com

Muriel Bowser, muriel.bowser@dc.gov
John Falcicchio, chief of staff, john.falcicchio@dc.gov
Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, paul.kihn@dc.gov

(Oh, and if anyone says there’s no money because there’s a pandemic, direct them here, because we could really use those few hundred million just lying around.)


CARES Act funding: As part of the federal government’s attempt to buffer local education agencies (LEAs) against the effects of COVID19, the CARES Act promises $25 million to DCPS. But inquiries to city officials about what those funds will be used for have been met with official silence. Whether this is because no one knows yet how the money will be used or because no one is willing to say, the funds could pay for a variety of things, such as digital devices or cleaning supplies (see below).

The mystery surrounding this money extends to other public funds intended to help during this crisis. That is, not only have an unspecified number of DC charter schools received federal loans intended to keep nonprofits and other small businesses afloat, but three DC charter schools have also applied for, and received, grants from DC intended for small businesses (LAMB, 87% public money funding; Lee, 91% public money funding; Mundo Verde, 88% public money funding).

ASK: Where’s the CARES Act money and what will it be used for in our schools–and why is no one requiring that our charter schools disclose all their federal and DC loans and grants immediately, so as to better allocate public resources?

Digital equity: The budget has no new funding for digital devices for all DCPS students this coming school year, which Digital Equity in DC Education has estimated would cost $11 million. Instead, DCPS has noted that for SY20-21, it is moving away from any 1:1 digital device ratio and also not allocating computers to students in grades 3, 6, and 9. To assess tech needs, DCPS will conduct a survey this summer and then allocate devices based on the survey results.

If this seems too little, too late, you’re sadly correct: it’s a recipe for perpetuating the inequity that distance learning has brought to the forefront. In a school budget of more than $1 BILLION, $11 million to ensure all children can learn from home this school year is not too high a price.

Sadly, equity in DC internet access appears similarly imperiled:

A few weeks ago, Digital Equity’s lead, DCPS parent Grace Hu, spoke to OCTO (Office of the Chief Technology Officer) about internet access issues. OCTO stated it was exploring private partnerships to fund Internet access, as it appears to lack money to directly fund internet subsidies for families without internet. Hu thinks that LEAs may continue to make available personal wifi hotspots for their families in need, which is neither a long-term solution nor, for families in LEAs without such solutions, even a viable short-term fix.

This student digital equity gap–both in devices and internet access–means that once again during school time, not all DC students will have access to their schools.

(See here for a screenshot of what the charter board estimated in April were students deemed “unreachable” per this document of ongoing conversations between invited education leaders in DC.)

As a result, education rights in SY 20-21 are in real jeopardy because of our student digital equity gap–and the fact that no DC agency is taking responsibility for any of the inequity (well, except to privatize solutions).

(BTW: for all those who say $11 million seems like a lot to cough up immediately for devices that ensure education RIGHTS are upheld this coming school year, ask how much it costs to provide armored vehicles and tear gas for DC police–and what rights those devices uphold when deployed against citizens exercising their civil rights.)

ASK: Fully fund a 1:1 student computer ratio for DCPS NOW–not in 2, 3, or infinity years–and have a plan for municipally sponsored wifi for all students. 

Open Meetings Act for DC charter schools: The budget support act includes language that theoretically makes our charter schools subject to open meetings, but has such a huge exception in section 16 for discussions “related to the operation of a public charter school” that it invalidates the entire law. There are a number of no-cost fixes: eliminate the loophole before the final budget vote; get a council member to propose scrapping the entire section and garner support amongst his or her colleagues; or, better yet, take the whole transparency piece out of the budget support act and pass it as a separate bill in 2021, with public input.

Happily, we now have a new council member who has shown interest in open meetings and FOIA: Ward 2’s Brooke Pinto. Let her and her staffers hear from you on this at brooke@brookepintoforward2.com and ella@brookepintoforward2.com or at her council email (see above).

ASK: Scrap weasel language enacted behind closed doors in a crisis when people are struggling to just get through each day and follow the Open Meetings Act for ALL DC’s publicly funded schools by tabling this budget provision now and getting it before the public in the fall.

Cleaning & protection supplies for COVID: To date, there is no budget support within DCPS for purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE), extra cleaning supplies, or testing for teachers or students–who in DCPS are expected to show up in person on August 10. (Yeah.) This means not only that DCPS will be competing against every district for these supplies, but that there may not be enough (or any!) of these come the fall.

This is not an isolated fear: the teachers’ union did a member survey that concluded that DCPS was unready to re-open safely, which was (ironically) echoed in surveys done by the deputy mayor for education (see here for the conversations around it by LEA leaders and others privately musing together for months on the subject). For this, DCPS parent and ed researcher Betsy Wolf’s excellent outlining of the problems is worth the read–as is this DCPS document on what it is willing to do to safeguard the people in its schools (while not giving teachers much choice or input in the matter).

ASK: Where’s the money for PPE, testing, and cleaning supplies for all of our publicly funded schools (not just those with good PR)?

School security guards: The education committee has redirected $7 million for the DCPS school security guard contract (overseen by the metropolitan police department) into socio-emotional leaning, with $6.4 million going directly to schools. While that’s enough for a half-time social worker or psychologist per DCPS school, whether the transfer is actually legal remains an open question. And there’s also a question as to how school buildings can remain open after school and on weekends without staff like those guards, whose presence has ensured important programs and access in non-school hours. Absent more discussion, this move appears to fulfill a deeply needed defunding of police monies (and power) without actually engaging school communities about their security guards or actually doing anything about rampant police brutality, which had fomented calls for police defunding in the first place.

ASK: Is it legal to redirect the DCPS security guard contract money from the police department and, if so, what are we doing to engage school communities in this discussion and why are we not redirecting MORE funds from our police to deep, and immediate, needs in our schools?

Charter co-locations: The budget support act contains a provision that tacitly gives the mayor a green light for speeding ahead with charter co-locations in DCPS buildings without supplying any details on which schools, the metrics of selection, nor acknowledgement of the long-term ramifications of such arrangements, all the while promising DCPS schools will see monetary benefits.

ASK: Don’t go here: The mayor already has the right to co-locate charters, so by making this provision law, and then saying it’s to DCPS’s benefit, the mayor appears to be planning this in a way that is neither public nor in the best interest of education rights. We have right now a LOT more pressing issues (i.e., see everything above and below). For any co-locations, the public must be consulted before they happen because they are not in the best interest of the public.

Holding harmless charter funding: A provision to fund charter schools on the basis of projected enrollment is embedded in the current budget legislation, ostensibly to shore up individual schools’ creaky finances due to COVID. But as the DC Fiscal Policy Institute has rightly noted, this provision would simply incentivize charter schools to get rid of students.

(Not to mention that some charters have already gotten extra funding–see that first item above–without public disclosure.)

ASK: There is no need for this because we are currently not accurately accounting for students leaving charters mid-year, while DCPS receiving schools are already disproportionately disadvantaged by getting more students from charters after the October count without either the money those students brought their charter schools or adequate fiscal support from DCPS. Most of those receiving schools are attended by at risk students.

Restoration of cut librarians: Only 19 of 39 DCPS schools in wards 7 & 8 have a full-time librarian in this current budget, while every DCPS school in Ward 3 has a full-time librarian. (See here for the grim stats.) How is it possible that schools in the wealthiest ward all have librarians, while those in our least wealthy wards do not–especially in light of our mayor and her chancellor saying they are dedicated to equity?

ASK: For about $2 million, DCPS can fund those missing librarians. That’s not a large ask–about 0.2% of DCPS’s annual budget. And, if the chancellor and the mayor think they’re about equity, ask why they don’t support this easy get.

Artificial turf contracts & maintenance: Just in the last year or so, dollar amounts for contracts for artificial turf fields at just two schools–Seaton and Amidon-Bowen–appear to have gotten much, much larger, without any clear explanation. (See the database here, with the search term “field.”)

That appears to be a continuance of public opacity around millions invested in DC’s turf fields.

For instance, there are no current records for turf maintenance or hardness testing publicly posted. And after (literally) years, we are still awaiting a publicly disseminated maintenance protocol for DC’s artificial turf fields, which was expected to include guidance regarding heat (a known danger in hot weather) and now should also include guidance in the wake of COVID transmission.

As it is, at least one of the city’s artificial turf contractors, Blue Skye, has given many donations to DC elected leaders, including our mayor.

Sadly, none of this fiscal and safety opacity and potential waste is new. In 2017, for instance, in the wake of Eaton’s field failing hardness tests while under warranty, DC replaced the field–at a cost of some $300,000. (See the contract here). Today, that (replacement) field is completely deconstructed as renovation work proceeds on Eaton, without any word about the effect on the field’s warranty. (See photos here.)

ASK: In a budget crisis, and with abiding safety concerns, why is DC installing (and in one case tearing up) artificial turf fields without any public hearing and seemingly without any publicly focused (and fiscally responsible) planning?

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