DFER-DC Testimony for the 2017 Budget Oversight Hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Education
April 13, 2016
The following testimony was delivered by DFER-DC Director Catharine Bellinger to the Washington, DC City Council’s Education Committee regarding the 2017 budget:
“Good morning, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Education Committee. My name is Catharine Bellinger and I serve as Director for Democrats for Education Reform’s D.C. branch. At DFER we work closely with our city’s elected officials to advance the policies that move us closer to a great public school in every neighborhood, whether East of the River or West of the Park.
“The past decade has been one of tremendous progress for the city. From 2008 to 2015, enrollment has increased by 14,000 students. Graduation rates have increased significantly, and more students than ever are achieving at and above grade level on the National Assessment for Educational Progress. Our elected officials and the city’s educational leaders have come together to acknowledge this progress — and also acknowledge the need for ambitious, intentional work to break down race and class barriers that unfortunately still prevent every child from reaching their full potential.
“This budget season is a time for us to both plan for the future and to address the urgent needs our schools, students, and educators face today.
“We at DFER applaud Mayor Muriel Bowser and Deputy Mayor Niles for prioritizing public education in the proposed FY2017 budget, which invests an additional $220 million dollars for full modernization of DCPS schools over the next two years, ends the ‘phases’ approach, and increases the Universal Per Pupil Funding Formula to allow for schools to better meet the needs of every child.
“However, we want to highlight our concern regarding this year’s freeze to the Charter Facilities Allotment. This year’s BSA sets the allotment at $3,124 per pupil, with no increase from FY2016.
“This freeze is concerning for two primary reasons:
- The cost of construction is rising faster than the rate of inflation. (This includes new construction, renovation, and general upkeep.) Every quarter, the construction industry releases the Comparative Cost Index, tracking the ‘true’ bid cost of construction, which includes — in addition to costs of labor and materials — the overhead costs and fees. In a boom period, construction costs typically increase more rapidly than the net cost of labor and materials, to respond to the increasing demand. DC is in a boom. The Comparative Cost Index puts last year’s % change in real construction costs at 5.47% for DC. We are rated ahead of New York City in rise of construction costs, and are behind only Portland (OR), Honolulu, and San Francisco.Meanwhile, while these costs are soaring, at least 8 charter schools — serving at minimum 2,000 students — are currently under construction, or plan to break ground and/or renovate in 2016-2017. As you have heard from witnesses today and will likely continue to hear, a freeze on the Charter Facilities Allotment in FY17 has a very real and tangible effect on the likelihood that teachers can teach and students can learn in a building that meets their needs and provides students with a safe, supportive, and nurturing learning environment.
- All schools need to make the necessary facilities investments today, to better prepare for the increasing student enrollment tomorrow. As the city’s student population grows, both the DCPS and public charter sector will need to expand to meet the growing demand for seats, whether by adding seats in existing schools or opening new schools. According to a DME presentation from the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force, student enrollment is forecasted to grow as much as 32,000 more children between 2014 and 2020. Charter schools, just as much as DCPS schools, require resources to keep up their current buildings and build up the equity now, in order to be prepared for the growth in student population over the next 6 years. The reality is that the District as a whole requires public school facilities to meet the long-term needs of our growing population – treating charter facilities solutions as part of an integrated approach just makes sense.
“In my role at DFER, elected officials and their staff often ask me what being a “DFER” looks like. What does it mean, in our opinion, to champion the needs of school children as a progressive leader in the District? I often find it hard to answer concisely — our children and schools have many needs, and we have all acknowledged that despite progress, we have significant work to do to ensure a great school for every child.
“But today, my answer is simple: being a “DFER” means re-considering the proposed freeze to the Charter Facilities Allotment and pushing through for a 2% increase — a modest, pragmatic step to better allow our public charter schools to meet the needs of their students, both today and in the future.”
August 16, 2018
June 27, 2018