Dear Mayor Muriel Bowser, Chairman Phil Mendelson, and Members of the Council of the District of Columbia,
We are the DC Students Succeed coalition: a partnership of more than 40 community organizations, schools, individuals, and allied groups working to ensure that DC students are successful in school and in life.
We believe that students come first and that their needs must be at the center of our work, especially the needs of Black and brown students. We believe families must be able to choose the public school that meets their unique needs and that education leaders need flexibility in order to effectively serve our students. DC Students Succeed brings together individuals — students, families, and DC residents — and organizations in support of creating excellent and equitable public schools for all students.
The past two years have been a collective trauma for our students, schools, and communities. Layered on top of the deadly pandemic that wrought so much personal pain and loss, our students experienced disrupted learning, acute mental health challenges, social isolation, and an upheaval of their childhood. Despite these tremendous challenges, DC students and families have persevered. We have worked as a community to create the solutions that have gotten us to where we are: safely back in our schools and classrooms, learning and recovering together.
We must move from persevering to thriving.
To do that, we must be clear about the challenges that remain for our students, families, and schools. The latest research from EmpowerK12 shows that students saw lower learning gains last school year. Alarmingly, students designated as at-risk and Black and Latinx students were disproportionately impacted. The data also show that “more time spent in-school receiving live instruction likely translated to improved academic growth, especially for students designated as at-risk” — meaning that, despite many challenges, our educators and schools are doing incredible work for and with our students.
At the same time, our students are experiencing what the U.S. Surgeon General has dubbed a “perfect storm of stressors.” Depression, anxiety and self-harm incidents have increased dramatically over the past two years.
To fully and equitably recover, our students need us to provide adequate resources and make smart policy choices now and in the years ahead. Specifically, we urge the Mayor and D.C. Council to:
- Equitably fund and support all of our schools and students.
For students who need the most support to thrive at school and life, we must first ensure that funding is equitable. Ensuring funding equity is the first step to achieving a great and equitable education for DC students.
- Maintain and build on Mayor Bowser’s 5.9% UPSFF increase.
We applaud Mayor Bowser for her landmark 5.9% increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (“UPSFF”) and ask that this essential investment be maintained and built on by the Council when it considers the FY23 budget.
- Fully fund the “At-Risk” weight at .37 and commit to conducting a new adequacy study every five years.
We are nearly a decade removed from the last adequacy study. Since the release of the 2013 study, the District has made major investments in its public schools, yet the “At-Risk” funding weight remains well below the level called for by the study’s experts. The authors of this adequacy study and the stakeholders that they consulted to produce their findings agreed — students furthest from opportunity need and deserve additional resources.
For the District to live up to its claims of being a community dedicated to equity, we must address this funding deficiency and create a mandate to reassess the state of our school funding system every five years.
- Rename and redefine the “At-Risk” funding weight.
The District’s “at-risk” funding weight is an important tool for equity, but it is overdue for improvement. The term “at-risk” is pejorative, inaccurate, and inadequate. The point of the funding weight is to provide additional funds in support of educational equity: changing its name to the Equity weight would be fitting of our collective intentions.
Second, the existing scope of students eligible for the funding weight is too narrow. Undocumented students, adult learners, students with federal 504 plans, children living at home but involved with CFSA, children of incarcerated individuals, and other learners who require additional support are not deemed eligible under the existing definition. We urge the Mayor and Council to broaden the scope of this weight so that more of the students who need additional resources may access them.
- Strengthen school-based mental health services
Our school-based mental health system is needed more acutely today than perhaps ever. Wisely, the District has invested substantially in that system. However, access remains uneven across our public schools with some 100 schools reportedly still lacking a clinician on site.
We urge the Mayor and Council to complete the expansion of school-based mental health services to all public schools, conduct a comprehensive needs analysis for every school community, and bring accountability to the system to ensure that students who need services actually receive them. Advocates, including the Strengthening Families Through Behavioral Health Coalition, have proposed additional ways to strengthen our support of students and their families in this area and we urge the Council to consider those proposals.
- Increase the charter school facilities allotment by 3.1% beginning in FY23.
Despite steep inflation and increases in facilities costs, the charter school facilities allotment has been frozen for multiple fiscal years and is not slated for an increase until FY24. According to the DC Public Charter School Board, in FY21, the District funded $154 million in charter school improvements while schools spent $183 million on facilities. The District should ensure that schools are able to fully meet their facilities needs with local dollars in the coming fiscal year and beyond. These funds are essential to ensure that students attending public charter schools — nearly one of every two students overall — can attend school in safe and educationally appropriate buildings.
- Create a citywide welcome center for immigrant students
In order to support students who are new to our country, city and schools, OSSE should establish a citywide, cross-sector welcome center tasked with ensuring families have the information they need to find the school and services that meet the unique needs of their students.
- Attract, support, and retain diverse and effective teachers.
Teacher diversity matters. Research shows that being taught by teachers of color benefits all students, especially students of color. While DC outpaces the national average in terms of employing teachers of color, there remains a substantial gap between the percentage of students of color and the diversity of our educator workforce.
Ultimately, we must do more, much more, to make DC schools places that attract and retain Black and brown education talent. Critically, Black and brown educators must feel supported, empowered, and valued as professionals.
- Grow efforts to prepare and attract Black and Brown education talent.
The District has taken the initial steps in building a “grow your own” program for aspiring teachers with a strong emphasis on teachers of color. We strongly support these efforts and call on our leaders to increase funding for them in the FY23 budget. To harness the immense talent already in our schools, we should also enhance pathways that support the entrance of paraprofessionals and out-of-school time staff into the teaching profession.
At the same time, we must put teacher diversity at the top of our efforts in recruiting new and mid-career educators. That means that schools must be places of belonging for teachers of color where diverse backgrounds and perspectives are valued and supported.
- Create new financial supports and incentives for educators to work and live in DC.
Despite competitive pay and benefits packages in our public schools, the District remains unaffordable for many educators, especially those from diverse backgrounds. The result is that many leave the District due to high housing and living costs. What’s more, the District ranks first nationally for average student loan balance at over $55,000—driving down their purchasing power.
To address this affordability challenge, we urge leaders to take action through the following concrete steps: Provide benefits to address the student loan debt of educators with a local tax benefit for employers supplemental to the federal benefit and provide public schools with additional grants to cover this benefit; and create housing affordability programs that are available to all public school educators with a Public Educator Housing Assistance Program (“PEHAP”) modeled after the District’s Employer Assisted Housing Program (“EAHP”) for first responders, open to all public school educators, including those that work at charter schools and create the Homeowner Resource Center, as proposed by Councilmember Henderson, to ensure eligible residents, especially educators, are connected with the existing programs that can reduce the cost of home ownership. To strengthen this area of public policy going forward, we urge the Council to require the relevant agencies to track the uptake of these programs by public school educators and staff.
- Prioritize wellbeing and provide greater work flexibility for educators.
Our public school educators have been under enormous pressure and stress in their work over the past two years. At the same time, the change in work routines and expansion of digital instruction technologies demonstrated that it is possible to introduce flexibility beyond the traditional school day and week. We should pursue new models of flexible scheduling for educators to enable greater work-life balance. OSSE should also pilot a sabbatical program to provide educators with the opportunity to pursue opportunities that enrich and recharge them.
- Enhance out of school time funding, programming, and access.
Students deserve joyful and rigorous learning experiences to find their passions in life. More programming — in and out of school — is key for student and family success, especially as we continue to navigate uncertain times. We urge our leaders to make quality and access priorities.
- Increase funding for out of school time programs.
The Mayor and Council should provide at least $25 million in recurring, local funding for out of school time (OST) programs, expand access to financial aid/vouchers for OST, and make sure that funding is transparent and supports fair pay for OST staff. Providing this funding will ensure that all students are able to access academic and social enrichment, mentorships, career programming, and dual enrollment programming — throughout the day and year, including in before-care, after-care, winter break, and summer break.
- Develop a data-driven OST strategic plan to remove common barriers to OST participation.
We should conduct an updated needs assessment to identify where there are program gaps and needs, looking at both location and program type. From that gap analysis, a strategic plan should be developed in partnership with families to ensure equitable access to in-demand programs for all kids. The plan should work to remove common barriers families face in accessing programs, including expanding transportation options and needs-based priority for families.
- Equip OST staff with the knowledge and skills to serve all students.
To ensure that all learners have the support and access they need for the OST programming that interests them, DC should provide OSSE, LEAs, and schools with the resources and systems to provide training for out-of-school-time staff on how to support students with disabilities and learning differences.
These priorities speak to the broadly shared values of fairness, equity, and opportunity that make the District of Columbia the welcoming and accepting place that it is. We remain at a pivotal time in the wellbeing of our students and school communities. We urge the Mayor and Council to be bold and lead the way in prioritizing our students and schools now and into the future.
- Capital Partners for Education
- Children’s National
- Critical Exposure
- DC Charter School Alliance
- Education Forward DC
- Education Reform Now
- Equity Lab
- Federal City Council
- Girls Inc of the Washington Metro Area
- Higher Achievement
- Horton’s Kids
- PAVE (Parents Amplifying Voices in Education)
- Reading Partners
- School Leader Lab
- Briya PCS
- Capital City PCS
- Center City PCS
- Creative Minds PCS
- DC Bilingual PCS
- DC International PCS
- DC Prep PCS
- E.L. Haynes PCS
- Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom PCS
- Family Place Adult PCS
- Friendship PCS
- Howard University Middle School of Mathematics and Science PCS
- Ingenuity Prep PCS
- Inspired Teaching Demonstration PCS
- LAYC Career Academy PCS
- Lee Montessori PCS
- Mundo Verde PCS
- Paul PCS
- Statesmen College Prep PCS
- Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS
- Two Rivers PCS
- Washington Latin PCS
1EmpowerK12, Update on Unfinished Learning in DC, November 2021.