Education Reform Now DC’s 2020 Priorities: A Commitment to Equity

Blogs, Letters & Testimonials

February 6, 2020

Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC) develops and drives bold, new ideas to transform DC’s public education system – and we do it at every stage from PreK-12 to Higher Ed. We work to ensure every student, particularly students of color and those from low-income families, receive full, fair, and equitable access to a high-quality public education that empowers them to fulfill their limitless potential.

Over the past five years, ERN DC has worked in coalition with advocates, teachers, and parents across the District to achieve the following wins, all with a focus on creating a more equitable education system for DC’s students and families:

  • Secured unprecedented increases in per-pupil funding, including an overall per-pupil funding increase of 13.4% and an additional 9.1% increase in the public charter school facilities allowance since 2017.
  • Worked with the DC Council to revise and pass crucial legislation, including the Research Practice Partnership, which will become an essential tool for exploring and expanding what’s working in our schools.
  • Advocated for the successful launch of the DC School Report Card, the STAR system, that allows parents to make apples-to-apples comparisons of school quality across the city and across public school sectors.
  • Cultivated the next generation of great DC education leaders to lead DC Public Schools, serve on the Public Charter School Board, and head the Office of the State Superintendent.

But despite these wins, we know there is far more that must be done to ensure every student in DC has access to an excellent education.

A Decade of Progress: The State of DC Education

Thanks to these achievements and the hard work of educators, DC’s public schools have seen great progress during the past 10+ years of reforms since the passage of the Public Education Reform Amendment Act in 2007. Led by the Fenty, Gray and Bowser Administrations, the signs of progress can be seen across DC’s system of public schools:

  • On the National Assessment of Educational Progress, DC is the fastest improving state and urban district in the nation.
  • Thousands more DC students are on track to graduate college and career ready, as demonstrated by a fourth straight year of rising PARCC scores, including 12.3 points in English Language Arts and 8.4 points in Math since 2015. These gains have occurred across all major student groups, including students who are “at-risk” black students, students with disabilities, and Latinx students.
  • For the first time in a generation, public school enrollment has begun to grow, increasing from 70,919 students in SY 2008-2009 to 94,603 students in SY 2019-2020.
  • According to a November 2019 polling from ALG Research, parent perceptions of DC schools are continuing to improve. By a 42-point margin (58% better / 16% worse), DC voters say that the quality of schools in the city has improved over the past few years. This sentiment is especially strong among parents, with 73% believing that DC schools have improved.

Yet across the city, too many students are still attending schools that are not preparing them for success in school, career, and life. Stark gaps remain in the opportunities afforded to students who are “at-risk”, black students, students with disabilities, and Latinx students. Despite the progress the District of Columbia has made, the story of public education in DC remains one of uneven and inequitable access to great schools. For example:

  • In 2018-2019, just 25% of at-risk students attended a school with a STAR school quality rating of 4 or 5 stars. At the same time, 58% of non at-risk students attended such a school.
  • In 2018-2019, there were no 5-star DCPS school options in Wards 7 or Ward 8.
  • Per-pupil funding continues to lag behind the recommendations made in the Deputy Mayor for Education’s 2013 Adequacy Study, particularly for at-risk students.

The Path Forward: Our 2020 Priorities

Given these inequities, it is clear that our work is far from over. We must remain committed to the principles and investments that have fueled DC’s progress, while making sure these enhancements are felt by every student. To that end, we are asking Mayor Bowser, her administration, and the DC Council to act quickly on the following priorities for the rest of this legislative session:

1.) Fund Our Schools Equitably, so that resources go to the students and schools that need them most. While the District has made important and significant investments in school funding over the past five years, we still have not received an adequate level of funding for our students, particularly those most in need. Specifically, we call on the DC Council to take the following steps in this year’s budget cycle:

  • Support Mayor Bowser’s proposed increase to the base per-pupil funding within the Uniform Per Pupil Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) by at least 4% this year, and an additional 3% in FY22 to bring the base in-line with the findings of the 2013 Adequacy Study;
  • Increase the at-risk weight of the UPSFF to 0.37, as recommended in the 2013 Adequacy Study, so that economically disadvantaged students get the supports they need;
  • Increase support for school-based mental health services. The time is now to ensure schools have access to mental health professionals–especially those that support our students with the greatest needs. The Mayor and the DC Council should invest $16 million to fund the Department of Behavioral Health school-based mental health expansion from 119 schools to 179 schools. In addition, they should invest $10.6 million ($45,000 per school x 236 schools) to ensure all schools have the resources they need to provide high-quality, culturally-affirming and responsive, and evidence-based social emotional learning programs, as well as trauma-informed training and restorative practices for all staff at each school;
  • Renew and extend the annual 2.2 percent increase in the public charter schools facilities allowance. 66% of parents with school-aged children approve of public charter schools, and thousands of students sit on the waiting lists of some of DC’s highest-quality schools; yet many excellent public charter schools continue to struggle to find and afford excellent school facilities. This investment will increase access to excellent education for all of DC’s students; and
  • Continue to explore innovative school facilities solutions like ensuring timely access to excess school buildings for public charter schools, and dedicating a portion of the lease proceeds generated by co-locations of public charter schools within DCPS schools to the school-level budget of the “host” DCPS school. We know that every student deserves a high-quality school so we must continue to create, support, and grow the kinds of great schools that families and communities want.

2.) Increase Access to Excellent Public Schools through a voluntary At-Risk Preference. Currently, only 25% of at-risk students attend a 4-star or 5-star school, compared to 58% of non-at- risk students. At the same time, many school leaders are eager to serve more at-risk students–but current policy prevents it. We should move quickly to give school leaders a policy mechanism to make the My School DC lottery more equitable. The longer we keep the current policy, the longer this inequity is perpetuated.

3.) Cultivate Education Voters. Late last year, we embarked on an ambitious project to cultivate voters who will turnout and prioritize education in their 2020 choices at the ballot box. To do this, our team of dedicated organizers hit the streets to talk to DC voters across the city. They are intentionally talking to voters who are often left out of the education policy conversation but are most impacted by the implementation of education policies. These organizers are asking the tough questions and engaging in real conversations to hear from voters about what they hope to see in DC education and how they want education to be prioritized in 2020. By elevating the education priorities of D.C. voters, we can ensure it is a priority for DC elected officials. We’ll release a summary of our findings later in 2020.