DC Council Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education hearing on the FY2021 Proposed Budget
June 4, 2020
Ramin Taheri, Director, Education Reform Now-DC
Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson, Chairperson Grosso, and members of the DC Council. My name is Ramin Taheri, and I am a long-time Ward 6 resident, father of two DCPS students, and director of Education Reform Now-DC, a non-profit organization that fights to ensure that all students, particularly students of color and students from low-income families, have access to a high-quality education. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to testify on the FY2021 proposed budget.
ERN-DC was pleased to see the mayor’s 3% increase in the UPSFF. In a time when jurisdictions across the country are reducing education budgets due to COVID-19, we are proud to live in a city that continues to make hard fiscal decisions in order to prioritize students. My testimony today, however, will focus on five things the DC Council can do to ensure our most marginalized students get the additional supports they need to live and thrive in DC.
FIRST: Increase At-Risk Funding to Support Students Who Need it the Most
Students from low-income families will be acutely impacted by the current school closures and will experience the greatest learning loss, due to a disconnection from vital services and because they are more likely to live in communities where families — especially Black families — are suffering disproportionately higher rates of infection and mortality from COVID-19. By increasing the at-risk weight, schools serving the largest population of children and families impacted by COVID-19 will have the resources and flexibility to provide additional supports for their academic, social, and physical well-being.
SECOND: Expand School-Based Mental-Health Supports for All Public School Students and Support Community Providers
The mayor’s budget deprioritized school-based mental-health supports—an unacceptable proposal given the pandemic and the resulting trauma affecting our students and families most in need. A choice between mental-health supports and learning supports is no choice at all, because these needs are inextricably intertwined: we cannot adequately combat learning loss without attending to the emotional needs of our students, and vice versa. Funding for these essential services remains inadequate. In addition, the Department of Behavioral Health, already underfunded, now faces approximately $21 million in spending cuts to community-based organizations providing behavioral-health services. Accordingly, we are asking for an additional $4 million to expand to 60 schools and for DBH’s funding to be increased.
THIRD: Sustain and Strengthen Innovative Facilities Solutions to Support All Public School Students
At ERN-DC we believe very deeply that every child deserves to have a great education in a physical environment conducive to learning, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or the neighborhood where they live. The mayor’s proposed FY2021 budget and Budget Support Act include a number of provisions that will ensure that this is the case for more students, including securing and modernizing a permanent home for DCPS’ Bard Early College High School, ensuring stable facilities funding for public charter schools, and leveraging co-locations to channel additional resources to DCPS schools that need them the most. These solutions are smart and will save and even generate new funds for public schools in the process. We urge the DC Council to support these difference-making proposals.
FOURTH: Ensure Schools Have Clear Guidelines, Resources, and Training to Open Safely and Protect Student & Staff Health
ERN-DC appreciates the work of the Reopen DC Education and Childcare Committee and its comprehensive report on how to reopen schools safely. DC’s agencies, however, must go a step further and share clear, actionable steps that each public school should take to protect and preserve the health, safety, and education of all children. Without this information, school leaders cannot proactively plan and communicate confidently to parents about the future. As they stand, the recommendations raise several operational and financial questions for schools and school leaders: Will schools have to hire more staff to accommodate smaller class sizes? What if there is insufficient space available for small classroom sizes? If parents and guardians keep students out of school, how does this impact enrollment count and, ultimately, school budgets? This is not to mention the challenge such a policy may present for parents or guardians: What are parents or guardians juggling jobs and other obligations expected to do on the days when students are not in school? And, perhaps most important: how does all of this impact learning and exacerbate the opportunity gap in DC?
Additionally, as was the case before COVID-19, schools bear the burden of addressing the many complications of systemic inequality and generational poverty. Now, however, schools must do so while simultaneously contending with the fallout from an economic and public health crisis, all with limited resources. They are heroically providing food, laptops, internet connectivity, and even personal protective equipment to students and their families. We urge Mayor Bowser and the DC Council to use federal and non-UPSFF local funding to provide schools with these critically necessary resources so as not to divert per-pupil funds from student learning.
FINALLY: Enhance Distance Learning Supports So Every Student Can Connect to Learning & More
ERN-DC urges the DC Council to ensure every student has universal access to technology and internet connectivity so they are able to engage in productive learning and every family has greater connectivity to essential social services, tele-healthcare, and job training. Bridging the digital divide in this manner is an investment in both the educational and economic future of DC.
IN CONCLUSION, our students, especially those already facing the greatest obstacles to success, urgently need the DC Council’s support. Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I welcome any questions the Committees may have.
August 16, 2018
June 27, 2018