Fiddling While DC’s Schools Burn—And Action To Take Today

On August 1, the deputy mayor for education (DME) and several of his staffers met with C4DC to discuss education planning in DC.

But the DME didn’t really discuss what he is actually planning with respect to DC’s publicly funded schools other than to report on three things he hopes to accomplish in 2023: finishing the newest iteration of the master facilities plan (MFP); finalizing DCPS boundaries; and completing a new adequacy study. Of those three major projects, the DME said the MFP would be finished first—probably by the end of summer 2023.

Despite C4DC members noting that we need an education plan and that facilities should follow such a plan (and not vice versa), the reality is that this mayor and her advisors already HAVE a plan for our publicly funded schools—a plan that ed reform org. DFER DC has invested serious cash in by way of our mayor and council chair (see here and here).

And for the last 8 years, that education plan has centered on facilities.

Specifically, the mayor’s education plan revolves around the trifecta of choice, access, and quality, underpinned by private organizations and $2 billion of annual taxpayer contributions. In that plan, schools of right have no value or role as anything but another choice; test scores and an endless array of new schools provide a bulwark of quality for school choice; and school choice relies on the concept of “access,” by which is meant a plethora of seats of choice in every quarter at all times. (Though “access” does not guarantee equity, it often stands in for it.)

To make this plan work, however, facilities have to come first. Simply put, you cannot have an endless array of schools and choice without a place to put them.

Conveniently, the MFP’s authorizing language provides a rationale for closures, because it requires co-location of charters in any DCPS schools with utilization less than 50%. The sheer number of schools that description fits (per C4DC, Aiton, Nalle, Ron Brown, Sousa, Anacostia, Garfield, Hart, Johnson, Kramer, Malcolm X, Moten, and Savoy) means that we are in a world of hurt for schools in wards 7 and 8 as our student population is shrinking and we expand DCPS capacity in Ward 3 (notably, the section of the city with some of the fewest public school students and highest private school participation rates).

Naturally, given his interests in the mayor’s plan, the DME was less voluble with C4DC about the many challenges that exist right now in our schools. To wit:

–Many schools face severe HVAC challenges that are not merely unpleasant, but possibly also life-threatening, whether with unmitigated heat or lack of appropriate ventilation;
–There is no extensive covid risk mitigation mandated in our schools (no mask mandate; no vaccination mandate for all eligible students; and soon-to-be expiring requirements for covid reporting in schools);
–Some DCPS schools have cut needed staff because of budget shortfalls that will only get much worse once federal relief funds end; and
–DCPS teachers have no contract (again).

Thus, below is a list of items things YOU can do now to make a difference in how our publicly funded schools are funded, treated, and/or operated.

Your voice matters—be sure to use it.

Actions You Can Take Today (In Chronological Order, Sort Of)

1. Attend the research practice partnership (RPP) for DC education public feedback session on August 24 at 6 pm. Sign up is here.

The RPP is also promulgating a survey, to (per the RPP’s executive director) “identify the issues, needs, problems, priorities, or questions in DC education.” Here’s the signup in English and Spanish for the survey, which expires on August 29.

Notwithstanding that the RPP is supposed to be guided by its publicly appointed advisory committee to undertake research using data from DC’s publicly funded schools (see here for more information about the RPP), the whole process hasn’t exactly been, erm, a shining city on a hill.

For instance, the advisory committee’s last meeting on August 3 had only 9 of its 19 members attending; there was no accounting of which 9 members attended; the meeting was run by none of them; and the group had already broken itself into four subcommittees, which have been meeting privately.

That lack of public process closely resembles the advisory committee’s prior meetings—despite the fact that the committee is responsible for establishing a 5-year research agenda for the RPP as well as guidance for any research projects undertaken by it.

2. Take a google survey on DC high school athletics, promulgated by the DME:

Recall that the DME commissioned a study of high school athletics in DC to “identify opportunities to establish Washington, DC as a nationally recognized locale for competitive high school sports.” The DME’s website goes on to say that “the study will assess the current state of high school sports facilities, programming, and coaching development with the goal of creating recommendations to improve the level of, and access to, competitive high school sports.”

Undertaken by a former private school athletic director, this study (for an unknown amount of money total, but a purchase order for $95K was in the DC contracts database in April) is slated to come out in the fall. Two meetings in July were held for it (see a slide deck here). Expect “access” to mean very different things to different people–especially as school proliferation has meant that few (if any) publicly funded DC schools have a well-rounded roster of teams to field in a wide variety of sports.

3. Testify at the hearing on the Schools First in Budgeting Act, slated for September 16. The hearing notice is here. (As of this blog post, this hearing is not yet posted on the council calendar.)

The intent of the bill appears to be ensuring that DCPS schools’ wild annual swings in funding would be minimized. Toward that end, the notice says that the bill has undergone changes as a result of public feedback since its first hearing in January 2022. What that revised bill looks like is still TBD, but here’s some background. Expect the DME and other school leaders to discredit stabilization funding and “unintentionally” small schools in DCPS as a planned push for privatizing DCPS facilities becomes a shove.

4. Lobby the council to schedule hearings on the following STALLED bills, all of which will die by 1/1/23 if not acted on. (A list of council members follows.)

–Two bills to address traffic safety around DC’s schools. According to Ward 6 council member Charles Allen, one has recently been marked-up and the other will be marked-up this fall—presumably the first step toward a vote. The urgency of this legislation is extreme: As frequently reported (see here and here), traffic safety around our schools is nil.

Indeed, public witnesses for the March hearing for the safe routes to school ( and the walk without worry bill ( raised problems of schools without accessible bus routes; no nearby metro; and lack of school signage, crossing guards, and marked crosswalks. Many of the problems outlined in the hearing were created (or made worse) by proliferation of seats of choice, closures, and consequent long school commutes—you know, the kind of stuff that the mayor’s (publicly unspoken) plan for our schools exacerbates.

–A bill to provide librarians in each DCPS school has also been stalled—incredibly, since October 2021. Recall that in the FY22 budget debates in summer 2021, all of the DC council (except, notably, council chair Phil Mendelson) voted to provide money so that each DCPS school would have a library and librarian in SY21-22. This legislation is intended to make permanent such funding.

Fascinatingly, in the July 2022 hearing on literacy issues in DC’s schools, materials provided by DCPS and OSSE (DC office of the state superintendent of education) mentioned NOTHING about school librarians, school libraries, or the joy of reading—despite more than half a century of research showing a correlation between well-staffed and provisioned school libraries and literacy development. (See here and here for some recent studies on that subject.)

Sadly, DC’s shortfalls in library funding often fall hardest on schools with the poorest students. For instance, five years ago materials obtained from DCPS showed that schools with the poorest students often had the fewest books per student. (To be sure, such shortfalls could be part of the mayor’s plan for our schools—i.e., squeeze ‘em dry until they cry, then close them and say it is all for the best.)

Legislation to compel DC to revisit its school boundaries every decade. Stalled since January, this legislation is absolutely necessary as a first step in any rational school planning.

Yet weirdly (or possibly naturally), that boundaries legislation is taking a back seat to a resolution promoted in June by Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh, which is now slated for a hearing on September 27. (Sign-up is here.)

Cheh’s resolution appears intended to do several things: Ensure that an addition to Ward 3’s Stoddert Elementary (remember, the ward with some of the fewest public school students and highest private school participation rates) is not only large but also able to be expanded and ensure that most kids currently in bounds for Stoddert would not attend a Foxhall school.

Recall that the planned Foxhall school—slated to be built *right next to* a school building owned by DC that the mayor signed a lease for to the private Lab School in the dead of night (yes, literally)—has been put on hold for a year or so. It thus seems that Cheh’s resolution is an effort to ensure that the kids who are in bounds for Stoddert never have to commute to the future Foxhall school.

But given shrinking student populations, it seems more prudent than ever to ensure we know what boundaries are before we start building yet more schools we don’t actually need. (Just in case you missed it two years ago, this is why Foxhall and frankly any other new public school in Ward 3 isn’t needed.)

Folks Who Need To Know What You Gotta Say

[NB: Legislation is handled in/by committees. All of the stalled bills above except those pertaining to traffic safety are being handled by the council committee of the whole (COW), which is comprised exactly as its name implies: all council members, but chaired by the head of the council Phil Mendelson.

The two bills on traffic safety are being handled by the council committee on transportation and the environment, which is chaired by Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh and is comprised of the following members: Janeese Lewis George, W4 CM; Kenyan McDuffie, W5 CM; Charles Allen, W6 CM; and Christina Henderson, at large CM.

Thus, depending on the bill, you may want to target your messaging to committee chairs and staff, along with your own ward council member and all the at large council members. The council is apparently on recess until September 15, so replies (or lack thereof) may vary—but rest assured, some if not all are working on *something*, so you may as well get in any queues. Also, council members running for re-election may be a bit more in, uh, listening mode.]

Council chair Phil Mendelson (running for re-election),; LeKisha Jordan, COW education policy advisor,; Mendelson’s office: 202-724-8032; COW: 202-724-8196; LeKisha Jordan: 202-724-8137

Anita Bonds, at large (running for re-election),; chief of staff Aimellia Siemson,; 202-724-8064

Christina Henderson, at large,; chief of staff Mike Shaffer,; 202-724-8105

Elissa Silverman, at large (running for re-election), ESilverman@DCCOUNCIL.US; chief of staff Samuel Rosen-Amy,; 202-724-7772

Robert White Jr., at large,; chief of staff Angela Fowlkes,; 202-724-8174

Ward 1 council member Brianne Nadeau (running for re-election),; chief of staff Tania Jackson,; 202-724-8181

Ward 2 council member Brooke Pinto,; legislative and community coordinator Ella Hanson,; 202-724-8058

Ward 3 council member Mary Cheh (leaving her seat in January),; legislative and committee director Michael Porcello,; 202-724-8062 (office and transportation committee phone)

Ward 4 council member Janeese Lewis George,; deputy chief of staff Will Perkins,; 202-724-8052

Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie (running for re-election in an at large seat), kmcduffie@DCCOUNCIL.US; chief of staff Laisha Dougherty,; 202-724-8028

Ward 6 council member Charles Allen (running for re-election),; chief of staff Kate Mitchell,; 202-724-8072

Ward 7 council member Vincent Gray,; chief of staff Sheila Bunn,; 202-724-8068

Ward 8 council member Trayon White Sr.,; chief of staff Wanda Lockridge,; 202-724-8045

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