Budget Oversight Hearing: Committee of the Whole

Jessica Giles

State Director

Education Reform Now D.C.

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and members and staff of the Committee of the Whole; my name is Jessica Giles. I am a resident of Ward seven and the State Director of Education Reform Now D.C. (ERN D.C.). ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students. I am pleased to testify about the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 Budget and Fiscal Plan.

There’s much to celebrate in the Mayor’s proposed FY 2023 budget, including a 5.9% increase in the base amount of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF); a 2.2% increase in the charter facilities allotment; $3.8 million in additional support for the school-based behavioral health program; and continued investments in restorative justice, dual enrollment opportunities, and High-Impact Tutoring. We are also pleased to see D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) publish school-level budgets and update its budget model. However, with the District’s continued strong finances and revenue,[1] more smart investments are possible and needed. We urge the D.C. Council to build on the Mayor’s proposal in six ways.

(1) Fund an Adequacy Study of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF)

It is critical for the District to know how much funding our schools need to ensure that our highest-need students are well-served. The D.C. Council must ensure an adequacy study is completed once every five years, since thelast adequacy study was commissioned on December 20, 2013.[2] The adequacy study should provide the following information: an estimate of the costs of delivering a high-quality pre-K through 12th-grade education to students in DCPS and public charter schools; recommended changes to the structure and level of foundation funding and weights for students with identified learning needs that entail additional costs; and recommended changes to how maintenance, utilities, and custodial services for school buildings and facilities are funded.[3]

(2) Raise the At-Risk Weight

Last week, Empower K-12 released an updated study on how our students are fairing during the pandemic.[4] Significant takeaways from the study are the following: students designated as at-risk[5] are, on average, performing nearly two grade levels behind in math and reading; their achievement declines were double their more privileged peers; and more vulnerable student populations have significantly lower academic, social-emotional, and physical wellbeing indicators.[6] The D.C. Council must raise the at-risk weight of the UPSFF from 0.24 to 0.28 for FY 2023 and sign into law a commitment to fully fund the recommended weight for students designated as at-risk by FY2025 – the same year as a potential fiscal cliff due to the expiration of federal pandemic recovery dollars. The 2013 adequacy study recommended an at-risk weight of 0.37.[7]

(3) Increase the Facilities Allotment to 3. 1 percent in FY 2023

The public charter schools facilities allotment is a critical tool for helping ensure every student has a safe and well-maintained school building to learn and play. Last year, the D.C. Council recognized the need for a permanent 3.1 percent annual increase in the facilities allotment beginning in FY 2024. To keep up with rising costs in the District, we urge the D.C. Council to raise the charter facilities allotment from the Mayor’s proposed 2.2 percent to 3.1 percent in FY 2023.[8]

We also ask that the D.C. Council ensure that funding for DCPS expenses is included in the UPSFF so that all students, staff, and schools have the funding necessary to recover from the pandemic.

(4) Provide Free and Easy Structured Literacy Training for all PreK-5 D.C. leaders and teachers

Literacy is strongly tied to success in school and life, but the District fails to ensure all our students are taught this foundational skill by third grade. Only 30 percent of fourth-graders in D.C. scored at or above proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the Nation’s Report Card, in 2019.[9] The results were even worse for students of color. Policymakers must demand a citywide literacy intervention based in the science of reading — a decades-long, interdisciplinary and proven body of knowledge that provides a deeper understanding of how we learn to read.[10] We urge the D.C. Council to provide sufficient funding so that all PreK-5 D.C. leaders and teachers can receive free and accessible structured literacy training with incentives.

(5) Provide Housing Support for Educators and School Staff

Everyone knows that it is costly to live in Washington, D.C. The District government can help make our beautiful city a more attractive place for educators and school staff to live and work. The D.C. Council should create housing and tax incentives, expand housing affordability programs to all educators and school staff, and ensure eligible educators and school staff are connected with the existing programs that can reduce the cost of homeownership.

(6) Build on Investments for School-Based Behavioral Health Support

All our students need mental health support, and with the pandemic exacerbating inequities, our students will need even more. The D.C. Council should continue to build on past years’ investments in the School-Based Behavioral Health (SBBH) program by right-sizing Community-Based Organizations (CBO) grants (i.e., increasing grants from $70,000 to $80,000) and funding a cost study to ensure we have adequate staffing of the SBBH program to meet the needs of students now and in the future. Thank you for allowing me to testify. I am available to answer any questions.

[1] “FY 2022 local source revenue has been revised upward by $148.8 million based on stronger year-to-date collections, and the out-year forecast for FY 2022 – FY 2025 has also been revised upward by a total of approximately $454.2 million.” Office of the Chief Financial Officer. “February 2022 Revenue Estimates.” (February 28, 2022). Source: https://cfo.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ocfo/publication/attachments/February%202022%20Revised%20Revenue%20Estimates%20for%20FY%202022%20-%202026.pdf Source accessed: March 28, 2022

[2]  Deputy Mayor for Education. “Cost of Student Achievement: Report of the D.C. Education Adequacy Study.” (December 20, 2013). Source: https://dme.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dme/publication/attachments/DC%20ADEQUACY%20STUDY_FULL%20REPORT.pdf Source accessed: March 27, 2022

[3] Ibid.

[4] Empower K12. “DC Must Act to Support Our Most Vulnerable Students.” (March 22, 2022). Source: https://www.empowerk12.org/blog/act-for-dcs-most-vulnerable-students Source accessed: March 27, 2022

[5] “At-risk” is defined: those who qualify for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, are experiencing homelessness, are in the District’s foster care program or are one year or more older than expected for their grade in high school.

[6] Empower K12. Ibid

[7] Deputy Mayor for Education. Ibid.

[8] The estimated cost of constructing new school buildings rose an average of 3.1 percent each year from 2016 to 2020, in comparison to an average of 2.2 percent each year from 2010 to 2014. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Producer Price Indexes.” Source: https://www.bls.gov/ppi/home.htm Source accessed: March 27, 2022.

[9] Office of the State Superintendent of Education. NAEP 2019 State Results – Fourth Grade Reading. Source: https://osse.dc.gov/publication/naep-2019-state-results-fourth-grade-reading Source accessed: March 27, 2022

[10] The 74 Million. “Giles: Schools in Washington, D.C. Are Facing a Reading Crisis. The District’s New Literacy Initiatives Could Change That” Source: https://www.the74million.org/article/giles-schools-in-washington-d-c-are-facing-a-reading-crisis-the-districts-new-literacy-initiatives-could-change-that/ Source accessd: March 27, 2022