Testimony for the DBH FY19-20 Performance Oversight Hearing
October 22, 2020
Education Reform Now DC
Good morning! My name is Jess Giles. I am a Ward 7 resident, an equity advocate, and the Deputy Director of Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights to ensure our public education system in Washington, DC, justly and equitably serves all students. We believe in a family’s right to choose where they want to send their child to public school — whether that’s in-boundary DCPS schools, out-of-boundary DCPS schools, or public charter schools. We are committed to advancing racial equity in public education, closing opportunity gaps, and regularly evaluating education reforms to see if they are working as intended. I am pleased to provide testimony at the Department of Behavioral Health’s (DBH) FY19-20 Performance Oversight Hearing.
The impact of COVID-19 has been challenging for all children and families in Washington, DC, but the impact has been disproportionately felt by Black, Brown, and immigrant communities due to bad policies, corporate irresponsibility, and racial bias. As of October 20, there have been 16,498 positive cases and 642 deaths. Three out of four people that have died from COVID-19 are Black. One out of four people with COVID-19 are Hispanic/LatinX. Additionally, the preliminary unemployment rate was 8.7 percent in September. The DC Council has a moral responsibility to do something about this.
One in five (20,080) children between age three and 17 had one or more emotional, behavioral, or developmental conditions in the District during the school year 2017-2018. As our Black and Brown students and families in DC continue to grapple with COVID-related health challenges, deaths, job loss, social isolation, and daily disruptions, they will need strong, consistent access to high-quality and affordable behavioral health care services. Fortunately, the DC Council approved an FY21 budget that allows more students to access vital mental health services while in school through expansion of cohort three of the DBH’s School-Based Mental Health Program. As of October 9, 2020, 84 percent (134 DCPS and public charter schools out of 160) of cohort three schools already have a clinician on board to provide school-based mental health services, which is remarkable. This puts us further on the path of providing mental health services in every public school in Washington, DC!
While this is certainly commendable, our community-based behavioral health service providers are still grappling with almost $9 million in spending cuts. In these challenging times, we need more spending on behavioral health services, not less. The DC Council must take the necessary steps to ensure that adults can be healthy enough to provide for their families and children can be ready to learn virtually or in-person once schools reopen safely. We urge the DC Council to continue to protect school-based mental health expansion as well as our entire behavioral healthcare system. Thank you for allowing me to testify.