Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Transportation and the Environment

Feb 26, 2021

Good afternoon, Chairperson Cheh and members of the Council. My name is Shannon Hodge and I am the Founding Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that all students in the District receive the great public education they deserve. I am here to offer testimony from the charter sector on the District Department of Transportation (DDOT).

Sixty-six charter school organizations operate 128 schools in the District, educating over 44,000 students across the city. Charter school students represent 47 percent of the students in public schools, and the transportation issues they face are similar to those experienced by students in the District of Columbia Public Schools system. For example, public charter school students use DDOT’s Kids Ride Free Program to get to and from schools, and they use the School Crossing Guard Program and the Safe Routes to School Program to travel safely to and from school every day. Our schools also rely on DDOT’s public space management, maintenance, and related services. And, of course, the coordination and collaboration between DDOT and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is integral to our students’ ability to access schools.

DDOT is a valuable partner that interacts with our schools’ students and staff daily. Of course, COVID-19 and remote learning have transformed the relationship between schooling and transportation. But it is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has not erased DDOT’s importance to schooling in the District. Our schools have adapted to this challenging time and continue to plan to bring more students back into school buildings. As of February 1, 60 percent of charter schools were serving some students in person in school buildings. That percentage is expected to increase to over 70 percent on Monday. As we bring more and more students back into school buildings, the importance of critical programs under DDOT’s jurisdiction increases.

During a “normal” school year, DDOT’s Kids Ride Free Program is mission-critical for the more than 33,500 students who commute to and from their schools. And although the program’s numbers are reduced as a result of remote learning during the pandemic, the Kids Ride Free Program is still critical for the thousands of students going to school buildings for in-person learning and support.

Yet we know that many students and parents may be reluctant to return to public transit. We’ve heard school leaders’ concerns—and those of their school communities—about safety on public transit during the pandemic, and we want to do everything we can to ensure that students and families feel as safe as possible using the program and public transit to and from school buildings. To that end, we would like to coordinate with the Kids Ride Free Program on a COVID safety campaign to encourage mask wearing, social distancing, and other coronavirus mitigation strategies on public transportation. This Committee’s support of this work would be greatly appreciated. We will also suggest this at the WMATA performance oversight hearing next month.

As always, charter schools continue to support the Safe Routes to Schools and School Crossing Guard Programs as vital aspects of student safety. We know that coordination between those programs and schools is essential to success and safety, and the recently proposed Office of Safe Passage could make a meaningful difference in this area.

Finally, a number of schools have asked us to request that DDOT fully implement the Daytime School Parking Zone Amendment Act of 2017 and issue instructions on how public school staff can utilize it. Although two years have passed since the law was enacted, no process has been established for the program. Our schools would greatly appreciate the Chairperson inquiring about the implementation of this program and whom schools can contact at DDOT about it.

Thank you for your time and attention to these matters, and I welcome your questions.