Upcoming Education Events: Federal Money Planning, Hearings, And Ward 3 Expansion Feedback

Mayor Bowser’s surprise announcement on April 29 of a $14 million infusion into DCPS’s budget has set the tone for what will likely be a busy and contentious May on many education fronts.

Defying 11th hour legislation introduced the next day (and also slated to force funding of some, though not all, DCPS schools that have experienced staff and/or budget cuts), the mayor announced the $14 million infusion as “additional” funding. Like the legislation does, the mayor’s action ensures that no DCPS school will find its budget less than its current school year’s budget.

The only hitch:

It’s not clear whether $14 million will cover all staff cut in DCPS FY22 school budgets. It certainly doesn’t also account for cost increases. Thus, despite the welcome infusion, absent growth in the total amount staff cuts (albeit in fewer numbers) are still more than likely at DCPS schools for SY21-22.

It’s also not clear how that $14 million figure was arrived at. But where it’s coming from is NOT a guess—and it’s disingenuous to suggest it’s “additional,” as the mayor announced.

That is: this $14 million is coming from federal money given to DCPS through stimulus funds called ESSER.

More specifically, ESSER funds are intended to offset exactly the kind of ruinous budget cuts and staff firings that DCPS and the mayor enacted before changing course in the face of (rather decorous) opposition from the council.

LSATs are now racing against a May 12 deadline to determine how their schools will use the money that should have been allocated already for this purpose.

[Confidential to DC ed reformers: Sorry, but $14 million isn’t an unfair infusion of cash favoring one sector. Instead, it’s money that DCPS schools are entitled to. You know, like DC charters also have gotten. And, for all anyone knows, have been banking.]

There’s now also an associated rush, inasmuch as the federal department of education wants states to get public feedback ahead of a June 7 deadline for states to submit plans for their ESSER funds.

But it’s not obvious how DC is getting that public feedback.

For instance, the mayor just announced some feedback sessions on federal stimulus funds–but those funds are likely not for the almost $400 million from ESSER intended for DC’s publicly funded schools.

Nonetheless, the mayor’s feedback session next week, on May 13, is dedicated to education issues, so be sure to sign up now.

Regarding public feedback on ESSER funds specifically:

Deputy assistant superintendent Jessie Harteis at OSSE (the DC office of the state superintendent of education) advised me yesterday that OSSE is trying to figure out exactly what the federal guidance is before engaging more broadly with the public on a plan for ESSER funds. She also noted that the agency is exploring the possibility of extending its submission deadline past June 7, adding that once DC’s plan is submitted, updates can be made.

So here we sit, hoping that OSSE both figures out what it needs and makes clear what the deadline actually is—all the while actually engaging DC citizens. Before June–or so. (Whew.)

Other Upcoming Events Of Note

***The DC Council will hold a budget hearing for all education agencies on June 3. Sign up is here. Once again, we plebes are faced with the unenviable task of signing up early OR being completely left out of the party because electronic communications being what they are in this pandemic in DC, the council can have public witnesses only for a certain time and then no more. Ever. (Is it me, or does no one say anymore that computers will make everything easier, faster, and better?)

***The DC Council is also holding a hearing on May 26 of its special committee on the pandemic on what DC’s publicly funded schools should look like coming out of the pandemic. To be sure, this hearing seems a bit, uh, premature. While herd immunity may (or may not) be a pipe dream, most DC schoolchildren will not be eligible to receive any vaccination until some unspecified future moment, possibly not before the start of the next school year. And that $14 million for DCPS is currently inadequate to save all DCPS staff who provide stability and needed services going into next school year.

OTOH, the council hopes with this hearing to elucidate access to high-speed internet for all, how to deal with trauma cause by the pandemic, and safe school commuting. Sign up and more information are here.

***DCPS appears to be going full steam ahead with its plans for addressing overcrowding in Wilson (HS) feeder schools, by increasing capacity in the ward with the 3rd lowest number of children and the highest private school participation rates. This is happening while

–The CDC just released provisional birth data for DC and at 8,858, DC in 2020 saw its smallest number of births since 2006; and
–OSSE’s audited enrollment data from January 2021 shows that the current school year’s kindergarten enrollment of 7,397 was lower than the city’s recent peak of 7,561 in 2016; and
–Enrollment in the Wilson feeders has recently decreased, with 163 fewer students in all grades (-1.6%) and a decrease of 271 students at the elementary level (-4.3%) from SY19-20 to SY20-21; and
–The official 2020 census count for DC is waaaaay lower than even the lowest DC office planning estimate from 2016.

Now, with all that evidence showing that expanding capacity in ANY of our publicly funded schools might not be a good idea (yeah, looking at you, DC charter board), you might think DCPS would hit a “pause” button on the Wilson feeder planning–or at least consider changing boundaries, feeders, and out of bounds slots as a first (and possibly only) step instead of rejecting it out of hand.

And you might also think that violating the law that governs capital spending priorities by allocating out of turn >$50 million to build a brand-new school in Ward 3 (Foxhall, next to an existing DCPS-owned school at 1550 Foxhall Rd. NW) and also spending $45 million (also out of turn) to purchase a school building at 4530 MacArthur Blvd. NW (assessed at $22 million) would be a slight problem, too. After all, Ward 3 is the only ward with all its schools already modernized, and this expansion plan would put a brand-new school building literally in spitting distance of another owned by DCPS (though just granted by the mayor for the foreseeable future to a private school).

Not to mention that few of the Wilson feeder schools (including Wilson itself) would be overcrowded if attended only by students in bounds for them.

But absolutely none of that is slowing any of this expansion down!

Take a look at this survey that DCPS is promulgating—at least, this is the version for Hardy middle school families. Preordained, anyone?

This is your version of the DCPS survey if you happen not to be a Hardy family–be sure to complete it before the deadline of May 19.

[Confidential to Mayor Bowser and DC Council chair Phil Mendelson: I think this is called regulatory capture—though who captured whom is an open question.]

Also, on May 17, DCPS is also sponsoring a “listening session” about the Wilson feeder planning.

Be sure to sign up and note how “listening” now is a bit inadequate to the task, because absent a commensurately growing population of schoolchildren, expanding capacity thusly in one ward, for whatever “diversity” and “equity” reasons one cites (which is the rationale here BTW), negatively affects diversity and equity in all schools in all wards.

Just don’t expect to see that in any of the DCPS materials.

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