Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole at the Performance Oversight Hearing on the District’s Education Agencies

Mar 1, 2023

Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Ariel Johnson, and I’m the Executive Director of the DC Charter School Alliance, the local non-profit that advocates for the 46,000 public charter school students in the district. Though I’d like to thank the DME, OSSE, the DC PCSB and SBOE for your continued support of public charter schools, I’m here today to share more about what we need from the District’s education agencies to (1) continue supporting academic recovery from the pandemic, (2) ensure equitable funding for charter schools to support teacher retention and recruitment, and (3) better collaborate with schools and other city agencies to ensure students are safe and have what they need to be successful.

Academic Recovery

First, we have previously discussed that improving academic outcomes as students recover from the pandemic would require sustained work over the next several years. In fact, research indicates “we can expect that it will take the average elementary school student at least three years to fully recover. For older students, it will take far longer.” And yet, federal pandemic funding that’s allowed schools to afford interventions runs out next year. Without ongoing resources to fund recovery, we risk leaving behind the students that need it most.

Charter schools are showing that recovery is possible with the right interventions. For example, as we testified last year at the public oversight hearing on PARCC Assessments, seven of the eight highest-performing schools in Ward 8 are charter schools. Eighty-three percent of “high at-risk” charter middle schools had a greater percentage of their students designated “at risk” achieve proficiency in math versus the District average. And nine of the top 10 highest-performing open-enrollment high schools are charter schools.

Federal pandemic funding has been a critical factor in allowing these schools to implement strategies that are closing equity gaps the pandemic widened, including extended learning time opportunities for students, small-group interventions, and regular data and student-work analysis. More information on strategies DC charter LEAs are implementing to address unfinished learning can be found in our cited resource. Without adequate ongoing funding our schools cannot continue these interventions, and we risk slowing or reversing the progress made so far.  We are grateful for Mayor Bowser’s recent announcement of a 5.05% increase in the UPSFF for FY24 and urge the Mayor and Council to ensure overall funding for schools is adequate to keep up with high rates of inflation and the loss of federal pandemic funding.

Equitable Funding for Charter Schools to Support Teacher Retention and Recruitment

I also want to lift up our educators, who are implementing the strategies to get students back on track. We know that recruiting and retaining high-quality educators is the number one factor in students’ achievement. But to do that, we must offer competitive compensation packages. It’s unfair to expect educators to do this difficult work without providing the support they need.

That’s why charter schools have asked for equivalent funding to the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) contract package the Council recently approved, as has been provided previously. Public charter school leaders are committed to using 100% of the equivalent contract funding exclusively to increase compensation for our educators, who serve nearly half of the District’s public school students. We’ve submitted a letter to DME and the Council signed by charter LEAs reinforcing that commitment.

Better Coordination and Communication with City Agencies

Finally, while charter schools do everything they can to meet the needs of their students and families, they simply don’t have the expertise or the resources to do it all. There are many supports our families need that fall outside the scope of school services, such as safety outside of school hours, housing stability and food security. They must rely on city agencies to close the gaps, but that requires a high level of collaboration and coordination to ensure students have what they need to engage academically.

We appreciate our partnership with the Deputy Mayor of Education (DME), the Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), and the Public Charter School Board (PCSB) over the last few years. We’re grateful DME Kihn, Superintendent Grant and Executive Director Walker-Davis meet regularly with the DC Alliance Executive Committee, a subset of our leaders elected by their peers, to engage in thoughtful discussions of issues needing greater interagency coordination and problem-solving.

We also thank these agencies for their thoughtful cross-agency coordination in developing valuable programs that support all schools, such as Safe Passages, the Advanced Technical Center (ATC), and Out of School Time (OST) programming through Learn24. The high quality collaboration and planning that resulted in the development of these successful programs provide an excellent model for resolving other intractable issues that impact our students but are outside the scope of schools’ or any single agency’s purview.

For example, students need to be physically and mentally safe and present in school to actively engage in learning. For this to occur each day, greater cross-agency collaboration is needed to ensure adequate housing and safe neighborhoods and safe and efficient transportation to and from school. We want to thank the DME for restarting weekly cluster school safety meetings with the Metropolitan Police Department and Safe Passage Program representatives to better address public safety issues impacting students. But there’s more we can and should do.

To increase safety for students and staff inside and outside the school building, charter schools support reinstating and improving the School Resource Officer (SRO) Program and expanding youth-focused training that emphasizes racial equity, child development, trauma response, and de-escalation strategies to include all police officers. We also believe creating transportation modernization grants that provide efficient, safe, and cost-effective options to help get students to and from school safely will better meet their diverse needs. These grants could be used for solutions like safe and efficient ride-share programs, van routes, carpools, designated pick-up and drop-off locations for groups of students and expanding existing school and community-based organization partnerships that already have a commuting infrastructure.

Moving Forward

Charter schools are eager to continue their partnership with the city and the Council to help students recover academically. It will take significant resources, support for our outstanding educators, and true collaboration across agencies and organizations to ensure holistic growth for all students. The DC Alliance is ready to work together to advance policies that put equity at the center of everything we do.

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