Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. 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 every student can choose high-quality public schools that prepare them for lifelong success.
I want to start by thanking Mayor Bowser for her leadership in the budget process thus far. We’re grateful for the first steps she and her administration have taken to prioritize students in the budget. We are particularly encouraged by her proposal to raise the UPSFF foundation level by 5.9 percent, the 2.2 percent increase for charter schools facilities, and the pandemic recovery fund that will be available to both sectors.
The dozens of public charter school leaders serving nearly half of the District’s students care deeply about investing in and improving our education system, and we continue to be grateful to City leaders and the Council of the District of Columbia for working together to ensure students receive a great education that prepares them for lifelong success.
But the work is not yet done. As we continue to weather the challenges from the ongoing pandemic to provide a high-quality education, we must do so in a way that accelerates learning equitably—particularly for students most affected by pandemic-related hardships. As the Council now considers the budget, I urge you to build on the Mayor’s proposal to support continued, increased, and equitable investments in public education.
Increase the At-Risk Weight
Now more than ever, DC’s most under-resourced and vulnerable students need bold, targeted investments. For years, students at-risk of academic failure in DC have performed well below their peers in mathematics and English. This trend existed even before the pandemic, and we know from EmpowerK12 that the average student designated as “at-risk” is now performing two grade levels behind their enrolled grade. (1)
As we enter the third year of learning during a pandemic, it’s likely this gap will continue to widen without bold investments directed to students most in need of targeted interventions. We urge the Council and Deputy Mayor for Education to commission a new, comprehensive education adequacy study to develop a fuller understanding of the funding needed to provide every student with an adequate education. It’s been nearly 10 years since the 2013 study, and we have yet to fully implement the recommendations contained in it. Schools will soon face a fiscal cliff as federal pandemic recovery dollars expire in the next two years, which is why the Council must also sign into a law a commitment to fully fund the new adequacy study’s recommendations for students designated as “at-risk” by FY25.
Finally, the Council must increase the current at-risk weight from .24 to .28 for the next school year, which is still well below the level recommended in the 2013 Study.
School leaders have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to retrofit buildings and ventilation systems to ensure they can continue to support in-person learning. Managing facilities is costly and those costs continue to increase thanks to rising construction and materials costs from inflation.
Last year, the DC Charter School Alliance administered a survey on facilities needs that nearly two thirds of charter leaders completed. We learned valuable information from that survey, most notably that more than half of the leaders that responded indicated they were unable to cover all facilities costs at the current allotment level. A year later, it’s critical that next year’s facilities allotment increases at an appropriate level to keep up with inflation and rising construction costs.
While we appreciate that Mayor Bowser included a 2.2 percent increase for charter school facilities funding in her proposal, we’ve asked for a 3.1 percent increase to meet the anticipated needs of schools. (2) We are grateful for the Council’s leadership in including a permanent 3.1 percent annual increase in the allotment amount beginning in FY24. But to keep up with rising costs in the city, we strongly urge the Council to raise the allotment to at least 3.1 percent in the upcoming fiscal year so that charter schools can continue to secure and maintain buildings for the nearly half of public school students we serve.
We also understand that the Mayor’s budget includes a dedicated fund for repairs and maintenance of HVAC systems. Our schools have invested thousands of dollars for necessary upgrades and repairs to HVAC systems to make sure students can safely be inside school buildings, bearing the same high costs as other public schools. We urge the Council to provide charter schools access to fair funding for these ongoing upgrades and maintenance as we all work to safely provide a high-quality education for every student.
That leads me to another important point. All schools in the District are facing enormous challenges as they work to serve students. But for many schools, these challenges are exacerbated by chronic underfunding that’s ingrained in our education system, with schools that primarily serve communities of color experiencing the brunt of these inequities.
That’s why I’m concerned about the growing funding inequity between sectors. The proposed budget currently provides more than $43 million in funding outside of the formula for DCPS that’s not available to charter schools. That includes $19.4 million for IMPACT teacher bonuses, $9.46 million for DCPS stabilization funding, and $15 million for HVAC preventative maintenance. The Council must take appropriate action to make sure that every school has adequate and fair access to resources to provide a quality education for all students and to support all teachers and staff as they work to help students recover academically.
Adult School Funding
Finally, I want to ensure that the Council considers the needs of the City’s adult learners in this budget. Despite the vital and unique role they play in building a resilient workforce, adult schools are the only grade band that has never been funded at the level recommended by the 2013 Education Adequacy Study. Yet, adult schools are also the grade band that saw the largest enrollment increase this school year. We recommend increasing the adult school foundation rate to 1 from the current rate of 0.89 to be in line with what that study recommended.
In addition to adequately funding the adult school foundation rate, the Council must provide access to and eligibility for at-risk funding. Adult charters are on the frontlines of addressing some of the many stark inequities the pandemic has highlighted the past few years. A recent 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. (3) That’s a staggering gap. 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.
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.
Investing in Schools and Students
As we consider the challenges facing our public education system, we urge the Council to think boldly about the future of public education. That means:
- Increasing funding for the Department of Behavioral Health’s school-based mental health program to stabilize community-based organization grant funding;
- Developing a feasibility plan for a citywide welcome center that provides comprehensive support and connections to other services to better support our immigrant students;
- Creating a statutory requirement for review of the definition of “at-risk” to make sure we are appropriately capturing the students in need of targeted interventions; and
- Investing in our current and future teachers by providing incentives for teachers, creating a robust teacher pipeline program, expanding eligibility of homeownership and affordable housing programs to staff of all public schools, and targeted tax credits.
As I’ve said before this Council many times before, DC’s public charter schools are nimble, responsive, and innovative. Each charter school has a different model to create unique and responsive learning environments for their students so each one can choose a high-quality public school and receive a great public education that prepares them for lifelong success.
We know that we all share the same goal—to build a truly equitable system that provides an education for all our students, and does so safely. We at the DC Charter School Alliance are ready to work alongside the Council and the City to ensure we are providing the education our students deserve.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter, and I welcome your questions.
(1) EmpowerK12, DC Must Act to Support Our Most Vulnerable Students. March 22, 2022.
(2) According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of constructing new school buildings rose by an average of 3.1 percent each year from 2016 to 2020, in comparison to an average of 2.2 percent each year from 2010 to 2014.
(3) The Racial Wealth Gap In Washington, D.C.: Research And Analysis In Support Of The Council Office Of Racial Equity, Council Of The District Of Columbia. Dec. 2021.