Bill 24-570 “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021”

News & Press Testimony

Jessica Giles

State Director

Education Reform Now DC

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members and staff of the Committee of the Whole of the DC Council. My name is Jessica Giles. I am a ward seven resident and State Director of Education Reform Now DC (“ERN DC”). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights for a just and equitable public education system for all students. I am pleased to provide testimony on Bill 24-570, the “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021.” 

On January 20, 2022, I testified before the DC Council on the first version of this bill and urged the DC Council to adopt three recommendations: review DCPS’ new budget model before making any changes to their budgeting process; create a more transparent and accessible tracking system of expenditures across our public education system; and require the Mayor to complete a new adequacy study of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) every five years. Thank you for listening and advancing those recommendations. DCPS has implemented a new budget model that is more equitable. The public can see federal investments and expenditures, and the adequacy study will get kicked off in January 2023. Additionally, the DC Council approved a 5.9% increase to the UPSFF in FY2023 and created two new concentration weights for students designated as “at-risk.” These are all critical investments as the District seeks to accelerate learning after the devastating impact COVID has had on our students, families, educators, and schools.

Now, turning to Bill 24-570 itself. We support extending the time the DC Council and the public have to properly review DCPS’ budget calculation and require the local education agency (LEA) to share only one budget document (lines 100-107). These positive process changes will help enhance transparency and clarity during the budget process. Overall, however, we believe the bill is overly prescriptive and would cause negative consequences.

Issue #1: We believe funding must follow the student, with increased spending on students furthest from opportunity. Lines 73-76, however, would allow a school to keep its same level of funding (for up to a classroom of students) at the expense of schools with increased enrollment. We need every school working to enroll and retain students. A provision that would allow DCPS to keep 95% of its prior year’s funding is already codified into law. 

Issue #2: We are concerned that lines 90-94, which replace federal funding with local funding, would cause a multi-million dollar funding hole when federal relief funds are exhausted. There are limits to the number of cuts DCPS could make to the central office to give more to those few schools with rising enrollment while still providing essential services necessary to run a large system. Further, if DC were to increase funding for the UPSFF to help DCPS fund the hold harmless provisions in this bill, it may mean fewer funds for programs that support public education outside the UPSFF. 

School funding must be equitable, flexible, transparent and accessible, and predictable and stable. 

  • Equitable, with resources following students and additional spending is on students with higher needs, so all students get the resources they need to meet high standards and thrive.
  • Flexible, so that school leaders can invest in a combination of resources that drive student learning and meet the distinct needs of their students.
  • Transparent and accessible, with clear, easy-to-understand rule for where, how, and why funds are distributed, so school communities can hold districts accountable for distributing funds equitably and so that principals and families understand changes in their enrollment and student needs.
  • Predictable and stable, so that school system leaders understand how changes in their system’s context affect funding, and so that big changes in funding from year to year don’t disrupt strategies and services that are particularly important in high-need schools. 

All of these strategies must work optimally together to ensure that our public education system prepares every student to reach their limitless potential. Thank you for allowing me to testify today. 

President Biden Makes Historic Investments In Student Loan Forgiveness

News & Press

For immediate release contact:

Joshua Hodge

jhodge@edreformnowdc.org

Washington, D.C. (August 25, 2022) –  Yesterday, President Joe Biden proposed historic investments in higher education as he is now set to cancel up to $10,000 in student debt for most public loan borrowers and up to $20,000 for Pell Grant recipients. “We want to thank President Joe Biden and his staff for prioritizing higher education affordability. As we look to recover from the effects of the pandemic and continue to build as a nation, this investment in higher education will help alleviate the great debt many former and current students are facing,” stated State Director Jessica Giles. 

“D.C. borrowers owe an average of $55,500, which is the highest in the country. Elected officials must hold colleges and universities accountable for providing high-quality, accessible, and affordable education to all students, including but not limited to ending the harmful legacy preference in the college admissions process and expanding dual enrollment opportunities for all students.” 

ERN DC ESSA State Plan Amendment Public Comment

News & Press

Dr. Christina Grant, State Superintendent of Education 

Office of the State Superintendent of Education 

1050 First Street NE

Washington, D.C. 20002

Dear Dr. Grant,

We are pleased to submit a public comment to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) regarding its proposed amendment to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan for Accountability. OSSE must make bold changes and adopt new ways of thinking so that all our students recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and have a just and equitable public education in the District. 

In February, 50 members of our community wrote a letter urging you to adopt five recommendations that would improve accountability in our public education system, namely:

  1. Re-strategize and refocus outreach efforts to ensure that families in all eight wards know that the D.C. School Report Card and Transparency and Reporting (STAR) Framework is a tool they can use to help them make decisions about schools.
  2. Get buy-in from families and D.C. residents in all eight wards, particularly those furthest from opportunity, on how best to use the D.C. School Report Card and STAR Framework to serve their students better.
  3. Improve, but do not eliminate the single summative rating.
  4. Administer the district-wide annual assessment exam this spring. 
  5. Get serious about innovation and school improvement.  

We are pleased to see the adoption of the first four recommendations and look forward to seeing progress on the fifth. As OSSE considers advancing its proposed amendment to the ESSA State Plan for Accountability, we urge you to ensure all changes are equitable, accessible, and transparent. Therefore, we offer the following eight recommendations to improve the amendment: 

  • Increase the weight of the “students with disabilities” student group
  • Increase the weight of students of color within the race/ethnicity student group, while holding them to high standards 
  • Remove median growth percentile
  • Ensure D.C. has an effective statewide annual assessment
  • Incentivize the expansion of dual enrollment and dual credit as a school quality & student success indicator
  • Include structured literacy training for all educators in elementary schools
  • Provide clear information on school quality 
  • Harness the accountability system to support schools

Guiding Principle #1 – Equity: 

Increase the weight of the “students with disabilities” student group

We applaud many of the changes OSSE makes to the student groups, including changing the term “at-risk” to “economically disadvantaged” and increasing the “economically disadvantaged” weight from 5% to 40%. With these changes, OSSE is demonstrating an understanding that our accountability system must prioritize and serve student groups who are furthest from opportunity, which is a step in the right direction. Because placing a greater emphasis on serving students furthest from opportunity is the right and smart thing to do, OSSE should also increase the weight of the “students with disabilities” subgroup. Students with disabilities experience the most significant challenges in public education in D.C, particularly students of color who are economically disadvantaged with disabilities. Students with disabilities have the lowest PARCC exam scores in ELA and Math and the lowest graduation rates. They also are more likely to be discriminated against, disciplined, and not attend college. We also know that the COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated these inequities. OSSE should increase the weight of the students with disabilities subgroup by taking five points from the “all students” group and applying it to a new subgroup, “economically disadvantaged students with disabilities.”

Increase the weight of students of color within the race/ethnicity student group while holding them to high standards 

Currently, OSSE proposes 15 percent for the race/ethnicity student group, divided evenly between all race/ethnicity student groups. Dividing evenly between all groups undermines the purpose of having the metric there in the first place. We recommend that OSSE keep the overall 15% weight but increase the weight of students of color within the race/ethnicity student group. OSSE must hold students of every race and ethnicity to the same high expectations while acknowledging the harmful impact that racism has on marginalized groups.

Remove Median Growth Percentile

We must hold all schools to high standards when preparing our students for life, school, and career. By using median growth percentage, OSSE focuses on how well a student is doing compared to their peers across the District and the country, rather than whether they are growing towards grade-level expectations. This change will likely hide where our problem spots are in public education by relying on relative, rather than absolute, growth. We recommend placing the entire growth weight in Growth-to-Proficiency and Approaching Expectations and removing Median Growth Percentile. 

Ensure D.C. has an Effective Statewide Annual Assessment

Because there have been hundreds of years of racism, discrimination, and lowered expectations for students of color within our public education, it is vitally important that we have objective academic measures that can be reliably and validly measured within our accountability system. With that said, we are disappointed that OSSE appears to be moving away from the PARCC exam. We urge OSSE to keep PARCC, or at least a high-quality statewide annual assessment with the following crucial features:

  • Culturally responsive
  • Offer Smarter Balance Assessment
  • Assess both problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Ensures student learning aligns with the Common Core standards
  • Offer numerous accommodations for students with learning challenges and disabilities
  • Make the data more useful for students and families by providing rapid results — paired with the key academic standards we should focus on next with our students — along with access to resources explaining how parents can support

Guiding Principle #2 – Accessibility: 

Incentivize the Expansion of Dual Enrolment and Dual Credit as a School Quality & Student Success Indicator

We support the addition of a dual enrollment indicator and would encourage the addition of dual credit. States across the country are moving away from a model which only affords students with dual enrollment courses for college credit towards a model which allows students to receive both high school and college credit for completing the course. Too few students get dual credit opportunities in D.C., and we are an outlier in this regard. By providing dual credit courses, students have more time to devote to other important college and career activities. They are more likely to treat dual credit courses as part of their core academic experience rather than an extra or supplemental enrichment activity. We also encourage OSSE to ensure all schools offer rigorous AP/IB opportunities.

Include Structured Literacy Training for All Educators in Elementary Schools

Because only 30% of students are proficient in reading by fourth grade, we recommend that OSSE add a metric for schools that provide educators serving students K-5 with structured literacy training, which is shown to improve literacy for all students, particularly those with reading difficulties like Dyslexia. This training ensures that the District remains serious about ensuring every student can read on grade level. At the very least, this information should be published on the D.C. School Report Card. 

Guiding Principle #3 – Transparency: 

Provide Clear Information on School Quality 

We believe it’s important for OSSE to identify struggling schools and support them. Currently, OSSE is considering removing the summative rating for schools and providing an “accountability calculation.” Regardless of whether the District moves away from STARS, we believe it is essential for parents and families to have a single transparent summative calculation for determining how well a school serves each student population across all metrics every year. Even more importantly, OSSE must clearly and effectively explain in an easy-to-understand and accessible manner how it arrived at that calculation and why. 

Harness the Accountability System to Support Schools

ESSA requires states to set aside 7% of Title I funds for schools identified in need of support, and we do not know what happens with the funding. Further, it is unclear what happens to a school after three years of support. OSSE should make its action plan explicit so the public is aware and can play an active role in holding schools accountable for student success. 

In closing, we urge you to adopt our key recommendations to incentivize equitable change within our public education. As always, we look forward to continuing to partner with you to ensure that all students have just and equitable opportunities in the District.

Sincerely, 

Jessica Giles

State Director, Education Reform Now D.C.

CC: 

Rep. Jessica Sutter, President, D.C. State Board of Education

Rep. Eboni-Rose Thompson, Vice President, D.C. State Board of Education

D.C. State Board of Education

Joshua Hodge State Board of Education SR22-4 ESSA Amendment Testimony

Testimony

Thank you and good evening President Sutter, Vice President Thompson, and Representatives of the D.C. State Board of Education. 

My name is Joshua Hodge, and I am a Ward 6 resident and public education advocate. I am testifying on behalf of Education Reform Now D.C. (ERN D.C.) on the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Accountability Plan Amendment. For those who may be unfamiliar with our work, ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system in Washington, D.C. 

While there are many positive changes to the State Accountability plan that we support, we believe the plan can be strengthened. On July 7, we submitted a public comment to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) urging the adoption of eight recommendations to ensure the plan is equitable, accessible, and transparent so that all students receive the high-quality education they deserve. The eight recommendations are the following:

  1. Increase the weight of the “students with disabilities” student group
  2. Increase the weight of students of color within the race/ethnicity student group, while holding them to high standards 
  3. Remove median growth percentile
  4. Ensure D.C. has an effective statewide annual assessment
  5. Incentivize the expansion of dual enrollment and dual credit as a school quality & student success indicator
  6. Include structured literacy training for all educators in elementary schools
  7. Provide clear information on school quality 
  8. Harness the accountability system to support schools

The Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on us all, but especially on our students and schools. The last two years has changed the way our students have learned and the way classes are taught. Because of this, we think it is best to modernize our D.C. school accountability system to better reflect this change and include additional equity measures so that all students, especially those furthest away from opportunity, receive a just, equitable, and high-quality education. Thank you for allowing me to testify.