Good morning, Chairperson Silverman and members of the Council. My name is Tameria Lewis and I am the Senior Director of Government Affairs of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates on behalf of public charter schools to ensure that every student can choose high-quality public schools that prepare them for lifelong success.
I am here today to testify about the vital and unique role adult charter schools play in building a resilient workforce. But before I dig in, I want to start by thanking you, Chairperson Silverman, for your leadership in last year’s budget cycle in supporting the city’s adult charter schools, particularly by identifying stabilization funding to help mitigate the impact of enrollment fluctuations caused by the pandemic. I’m proud to say that your leadership paid off. With recent audited enrollment numbers published, we know that adult learners have not only rebounded from the start of the pandemic, but the number has actually grown by eight percent from pre-pandemic levels. In fact, enrollment in adult schools grew faster than any other grade band this year, clearly demonstrating the need and demand by District residents for adult education opportunities and career training programs. The stabilization funding was crucial, so thank you, Chairperson Silverman, for your support.
Adult Charters Serve an Important Purpose in DC’s Education Landscape
Through its adult public charter schools, the District of Columbia offers a wide range of educational options for residents who aspire to enter the workforce. Here, DC residents access skills and experiences essential for upward mobility, both for themselves and their families. Adult charters reconnect young adults who, for one reason or another, didn’t finish high school, allowing them to earn GEDs and marketable certifications in critical fields such as health services and technology. Adult charters serve our immigrant population, where they learn English, master career-building skills, and are supported as they walk the path to citizenship. And adult charters aid parents who were forced to forgo their own education to care for themselves or their families, preparing them to become successful college students or entrepreneurs.
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.
And, when you support parents, you’re supporting school age children. A recent survey of adult public charter school students revealed that nearly two-thirds (64 percent) are parents. Among those families, six in 10 children attend public schools in the District. Additionally, 43 percent of adult students reported that their children are English learners, and 17 percent reported having children with disabilities. We know that when parents have more opportunities, their children fare better, which is why it’s critical to support educational and career opportunities for adult learners.
Simply put, adult charters serve an important purpose in DC’s education landscape. In a city where high-skilled occupations are more prevalent than the national average, nearly 50,000 DC residents lack a high school diploma or its equivalent. Adult charters play a critical role in closing that gap – not just by educating adult learners, but by putting our city’s aspiring workers on a career path.
Adult charters are also working hard to address stark inequities the pandemic has highlighted the past couple of years, particularly in communities of color that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. Just this week, a new report from the Council Office of Racial Equity (CORE) revealed that the median net worth for a white household is 81 times the median net worth for a Black household in the District. That’s a staggering gap. With the racial wealth gap this extreme, we have to make sure that expanding adult education opportunities are prioritized as part of the solution in closing it. Of the students enrolled in adult charter schools this year, the vast majority are Black and Latino residents, underscoring just how important adult education is to the District in our efforts to close the wealth gap.
As we testified last year, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act State Plan submitted to the U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Education, which outlines the District’s workforce development system’s strategy, stated 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 adult public charter schools to recommend that this Committee encourage the Workforce Investment Council to consider partnering more with adult-serving public charter schools as part of these efforts.
With demand for adult education and career training programs among DC residents growing, we must ensure adult charter schools have the capacity to serve more 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. To start, we recommend increasing adult school funding to the level recommended in the 2013 adequacy study and providing funding support for at-risk adult students.
Additionally, our adult school leaders are eager to partner with the City and this Committee to ensure we are building programs to access any opportunities related to the federal Administration’s emphasis on green new jobs and infrastructure upgrades. We recommend that you 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 are already underway or will soon be on the horizon.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.