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Sign-on Letter to DC Council Education Committee Regarding School Modernization Funding

UPDATE 5/2/16 2:30PM: As of May 2nd, 249 people have signed onto this letter. Signers are from all Wards and represent a range of interests: parents, schools, individuals, and citywide organizations.

>> Final letter to the DC Committee on Education with 249 signatures

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On April 20th, PTA and LSAT leaders and other members of the Capitol Hill Public School Parent Organization (CHPSPO) kicked off a sign-on letter to the DC Committee on Education as an effort to engage parents and school leaders in all wards to fight for a more rigorous, transparent school modernization approach for all.

The letter calls on the DC Council Education Committee to “reject the Mayor’s FY2017-FY2022 DCPS Capital Improvement Plan as it is proposed” and requests a plan with clearer rationale and accurate and transparent data. It was signed initially by 31 parent leaders and sent to Committee members on April 20 in advance of the DCPS oversight hearing on April 21.

We hope more parents, teachers, school leaders, and community members will join us.
> Read the letter and sign on here

BACKGROUND

Last year the Committee on Education wisely responded to the city’s poor track record of wasteful spending, broken school promises, and no clear plan or rationale to the Capital Improvements Plan with a data-driven approach of transparently assessing and prioritizing what we do with limited capital dollars. It wasn’t a perfect matrix, but it was a big step forward and included an opportunity for public input on the values and data underlying the approach.

The Mayor’s current Capital Improvement budget proposal responds to the need to focus on school modernization as a priority — but the Mayor’s plan as proposed does not invest in our schools with a clear vision, transparent data, or evidence of efficient spending. Nor was any public engagement or findings of the recent 21st Century School Fund historical modernization analysis part of determining the DCPS matrix used to develop the budget.

The fiscal and educational impact of this plan is so significant that we call on the City Council to use its oversight role to require more rigor from the Mayor and DCPS in the data, transparency, and criteria used to create this plan.

We ask that the Committee not allow any modernization budget to be approved until the following five specific elements are included (as detailed in the sign-on letter):

* Stabilization Plan Based on Health and Safety Needs of All Schools
* Accurate and Transparent Data
* Consistent and Relevant Method
* Incentives to Get Better Value from Project Expenditures.
* Fix All in 6: Council should commit to funding over the next 6 years every school’s modernization needs.

 

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FY17 School Budget Tool: DCPS school budgets comparable and transparent

The Coalition for Public Schools & Communities (C4DC) and Code for DC released a School Budget Tool with all schools’ FY17 budget data (and comparisons to FY16 and FY15).

In the post, “C4DC Budget Tool & the FY17 DC School Budget Data in Context,” C4DC analysis on the tool shows that despite FY17 increases, some schools have reduced buying power for 3 reasons: costs of positions went up; some costs were shifted to school budgets; and an unfunded mandate added responsibilities to schools but not funding.

This comparative data and context will be important in the upcoming budget oversight hearings and in holding our city accountable for the high quality education for all of our students.

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Testimony by Sandra Moscoso at the Education Committee public hearing on B21-0115, Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act of 2015 Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am submitting this testimony as a DC Charter School Parent, a DC Public Schools Parent, and a member of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization (CHPSPO). My message to Council and your influence over transparency of DC public charter school fiscal transparency is simple:

  • Ensure transparency in how funding decisions are made and allocated, particularly by the private management companies responsible for school and student services.
  • Ensure the most out of limited funds by supporting TRUE coordination between DC public and DC Charter schools.

On transparency, I don’t just mean canned, pre-cooked reports. I also mean open data. The city has made great strides over the past few years around making data and policy more accessible. The parent community has also made great strides in engaging around available data.

This sharing of data by education agencies has enabled education consumers to not just ask our city what it wants from schools and learning opportunities, but has also enabled communities to collaborate with governments in designing the future of education.

Any Councilmember who has attended a local civic hacking event can confirm that data analysis takes place not only in the Wilson building, in DCPS headquarters, at OSSE, but in libraries, community hubs, and living rooms.

The case for transparency are straightforward. As a parent, I want to be able to access how my son’s charter school is being funded, and whether this funding is comparable to my daughter’s DCPS.

I want to know that my son’s charter school isn’t at risk of losing a large population of the faculty when the school’s private management company decides to invest in opening in a new school nearby, with potentially competitive teacher salaries.

Recognizing that key decisions about my son’s education are made by what is in effect, a private company, I worry that my opportunity for holding the school accountable is really just one – that of moving him to another school.

If there is not transparency over how the public funds allocated to my son’s school are managed, I don’t see how the school’s parent body, the school’s board of trustees, the Public Charter School Board, or DC Council are able to exercise rigor in oversight.

I want to highlight here that closing schools is not something to celebrate, nor is it a sign of rigorous oversight. When a school closes, this means that we adults have failed the children in that school. We need to recognize that we are not only failing those children, but we are then also forcing them and all their friends to be displaced to other schools. This is not oversight, this is failure.

Where there is transparency, engaged communities can help to identify blind spots, and effectively collaborate with the DCPCSB, council, the DME and the city to strengthen schools.

On coordination, I recognize that resources are limited and funding is scarce. I believe that funding two public education sectors without strategic coordination between them exacerbates the issue of scarcity.

I have children in both sectors, and the problems I witness in both are quite similar. Aging facilities in need up updating, scarce resources for programming, and lack of stability around student mobility. These issues will require close coordination among the sectors (including understanding the impact of each other’s decisions).

Fund the schools here today adequately (DCPS and Charter), require transparency, hold them accountable, and give them a chance to succeed.

Thank you for your time and attention.

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Testimony of Suzanne Wells before the Council of the District of Columbia Education Committee Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment of 2015, B21-0115 October 14, 2015

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on the Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment of 2015. My name is Suzanne Wells. I am the founder of the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, and my daughter is a fifth grader in the Tyler Elementary Spanish Immersion program.

It is important to strengthen the transparency surrounding the DC public charter schools, and this bill is a modest step in the right direction. As the Council considers comments on the bill, I strongly urge the Council to consider the recommendations included in the Transparency, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility for Publicly Funded Charter Schools in DC paper that was developed with input from a broad range of education stakeholders across the city.

My testimony today focuses on the lack of transparency in the siting of new public charter schools. Public charter schools generally locate their facilities in DC public schools that are determined to be surplus or in commercially-owned buildings. There is a minimal opportunity for the public to be involved when charter schools locate in surplus DC public schools. However, there is no transparency or opportunity for public input when public charter schools locate in commercially-owned buildings. There are many different reasons that a community may want or not want a school in their community, and that is why transparency on the siting of new public charter schools is so important both for the schools and for the communities.

The recent opening of Washington Global Middle School in Ward 6 provides important insights into the need for greater transparency in the siting of new public charter schools. In May 2014, the Public Charter School Board approved Washington Global’s application which said it was looking to site its new facility in Wards 4, 5, 7 or 8. Washington Global initially sought to locate in the former Gibbs School, along with Monument Academy and Community College Prep. For reasons that have never been made public, Washington Global was not included in the group of schools that were awarded the former Gibbs School. In December 2014, Washington Global Middle School announced it had leased a commercial building in Ward 6 for its new location. Because this commercial building is privately owned, there was no process for the public to provide input.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6D was not consulted or informed before Washington Global leased its new facility. The Public Charter School Board approved the Ward 6 location for Washington Global even though its original application said it was planning to locate in Wards 4, 5, 7 or 8. The public was never given the opportunity to provide input on the opening of Washington Global which is now located less than 1,700 feet from Jefferson Middle School, a DC public school that has a program substantially similar to Washington Global. There is no defined process for the siting of new public charter schools.

There is no opportunity for the public to provide input when public charter schools locate in commercial buildings. I encourage the Council to consider strengthening the Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment by adding provisions that would increase public involvement and transparency when new public charter schools are sited or when existing public charter schools are expanded. Without increased transparency, we will continue to make less than optimal decisions about where our tax dollars go to support our public schools, and will do a disservice to the students attending schools in Washington, DC.

Another area where much greater transparency is needed is in regards to what happens to the facilities that once housed closed public charter schools. Approximately 40 public charter schools have closed since their charters were first approved. The facilities of these closed public charter schools were paid for with taxpayer dollars while the schools were open. The taxpayers have a right to know what happened to the facilities that formerly housed these public charter schools. If the buildings were sold, where did the proceeds from the sale go? If the facilities were being financed through revenue bond programs, who is paying the bond debt now?

In closing, there are many areas where greater public charter school transparency is needed. I strongly encourage the Council to strengthen this fiscal transparency amendment. Thank you for the opportunity to testify

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Testimony of Elizabeth Bacon at the Education Committee Public Hearing on B21-0115, Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act of 2015

Councilmember Grosso and the Committee on Education: Thank you for holding this hearing today as a public discussion of transparency and fiscal responsibility for our public schools. This is an important, although sometimes difficult, issue that we must address to be better stewards of the $1.4 million we spend in public money on our education system annually.

In my view – as a parent with two children in DCPS schools and as a former LSAT member with experience deciphering school budgets – there is room, and need, to strengthen this bill. After seeing how tight (and often short) the capital and operating budgets are at my children’s DCPS schools, I believe we must be better stewards of our public education dollars.

As well, as a member of the education council in Ward 6 and as a member of the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities, I would point councilmembers to the proposals to strengthen this bill in the Coalition’s recent paper, “Transparency, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility for Publicly Funded Charter Schools in DC,” which contends that all of our public schools, no matter the sector, should be held to the same standards of accountability and transparency.

As I understand it, the current version of the Act, as introduced, only applies to a handful of charter schools. Examples of charters diverting millions to private contractors – as in the cases of Options and Community Academy – should speak to an imperative for greater transparency for all public charter schools, both those open now, and those that will open in the future.

As a DCPS parent, I hear how charters are supposed to spur innovation and best practices for traditional schools, but if it’s not clear how money is being spent to implement these best practices, how is it possible to authentically replicate these models and practices?

Mine is a parent’s perspective, but two particular recommendations from a recent report from the Annenberg Institute, “Public Accountability for Public Charter Schools, Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight,” on effective oversight of public charter schools echo the conversation here today:

  • School governance should be representative and transparent.
  • Monitoring and oversight of charter schools are critical to protect the public interest.

A data warehouse – as outlined in the School Reform Act (and called for by fall 2016) – would serve to create common data points across the charter and DCPS sectors to provide intelligible and useful comparisons. This would be important to the sectors being able to learn from each other (which is in line with the goals of the cross-sector collaboration task force being formed now by the Deputy Mayor for Education); important to Council for oversight purposes; and important to LEAs and citizens in assessing how money is being spent to achieve specific results.

In the interest of stewardship of public dollars and building the strongest public education system in our city we can, I urge the Committee to use this legislation and future opportunities to strengthen fiscal transparency and accountability for our city’s education spending.

WANTED: Cute DC Kids and Their Parents for White House Project

Are you a DC parent, looking for a school for your 3 year old, middle school or high school student? Have you found a terrific elementary school, but worried about middle school?
We want to hear from you as part of a volunteer-run project we hope to showcase at the White House, at the end of July.A team of civic hackers (volunteer data scientists, programmers, and parents) are working through Code for DC (http://codefordc.org/) to help DC families with understanding the school landscape. We are working with DC school officials to publish information about schools, and answer questions like: are there children enrolled in this school that live in my neighborhood? where are the children from my child’s elementary school going to middle school? We will add more information, as we collect additional information about DC schools that goes beyond standardized testing performance (see a preview of the first version below).

How can you participate today? Help us make a video to get the attention of the folks at the White House, so our project can be included at a showcase. By Thursday, June 20, send us a 20-30 second video (via dropbox, to: Elena Chiriboga  <elc64 at georgetown dot edu>) with you or your children (or both), capturing any of the following:

  • You, in front of something recognizable in your neighborhood (like Anacostia river, Brookland Metro station, Cathedral- whatever makes sense) saying: “Where do the children in my neighborhood go to (Elementary, or Middle, or High) school?”
  • You/your children in front of something recognizable in your neighborhood (like Anacostia river, Brookland Metro station, Cathedral- whatever makes sense) saying: “We live in [XXX neighborhood]!”
  • You, at your child’s school saying: “I love my children’s elementary school, but I’m confused about where to send them to middle school”
  • Your child, in front of something recognizable in your neighborhood saying: “I want to go to school where my neighborhood friends go!”
  • Your child, at their school saying: “My favorite part of school is….”
A few tips:
  • To capture the best sound quality, you have to stand reasonably close to the subject (especially since kids don’t always have the loudest voice). Stand about 1-2 feet away from the subject. Try for a shot that is from the chest up. Playback the video after your first recording to make sure the sound isn’t blown out or peaking. If you’re far away from your subject the volume will probably playback very low and boosting it in editing software will only increase all the white noise.
  • Try to limit background noise when the subject is speaking.
  • Always have the light behind you.
  • B-roll can be really tricky with a phone because people tend to move around the phone really quickly when recording. It’s better to be still and have the objects in your frame moving than for you to be panning with your phone.
  • Send along a few photos, too, which we will mix in with the video.
Be sure to tell us your first name, and your child’s first name and age and how best to reach you, to share the final video, which will be included in our White House submission.
Thank you in advance from the Code for DC Education Project Team!
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