Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee on Labor and Workforce Development

Mar 3, 2021

Good morning, Chairperson Silverman 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 testify about the vital role DC’s adult-serving charter schools play in workforce development.

Through its adult public charter schools, the District of Columbia offers a robust range of educational options for residents who aspire to enter the workforce. In adult public charter schools, residents access skills and experiences that are essential for upward mobility for themselves and their families. In adult public charter schools, disconnected young adults re-engage with schooling to earn GEDs and marketable certifications in critical fields such as health services and technology. In adult public charter schools, immigrants learn English, master career-building skills, and walk the path to citizenship. In adult public charter schools, parents who had to forego education to rehabilitate themselves or care for their families prepare to become successful in college or entrepreneurship.

A 2020 survey of adult public charter school students revealed that 64% are parents, and 60% of their children attend public schools in the District. Forty-three percent of the adult students reported that their children are English learners, and 17% have children with disabilities. These adult students often lack basic technology and online learning skills, limiting their ability to improve their employment and support their children’s on-line learning. Yet through adult charter schools, they can learn essential skills to improve their personal, family, and community trajectories.

According to the 2020 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act Unified State Plan, nearly 50,000 DC residents lack a high school diploma or its equivalent.  That same plan provided that the District of Columbia Workforce Investment Council (DCWIC) “will work with OSSE and other partners focused on adult basic education to identify additional approaches and investments that may enable more of the residents without a high school diploma to increase their educational attainment.” We are here on behalf of and alongside adult public charter schools to recommend that this Committee encourage the DCWIC to consider partnering more with adult-serving public charter schools as part of these efforts.

Currently, adult public charter schools only have the capacity to serve 6,000 students. With stabilized funding, expanded capacity in the form of access to better facilities and increased enrollment ceilings, and more partnerships with business and industry, these schools can continue to provide the job-focused infrastructure and training that are critical to the many thousands of DC residents who need their support.

Additionally, as the City and this Committee consider the new federal Administration’s emphasis on green new jobs and infrastructure upgrades, please consider adult-serving charter schools for pilot programs, incentive grants, and partnerships. These fields hold great promise for our residents, and we encourage finding ways to include them in the new ventures that will soon be on the horizon.

The nation’s capital is a tale of two cities with regards to its workforce. We have the most educated residents and the least educated residents. Great wealth and great poverty. Adult-serving charter schools help close this great gulf by offering targeted education and a pathway out of poverty for tens of thousands of DC residents. Supporting, strengthening, and prioritizing them is one of the soundest investments this committee could make.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.