Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole and Committee on Executive Administration and Labor

Feb 6, 2023

Thank you Chairman Mendelson, Councilmember Bonds and members of the Committee of the Whole and Committee on Executive Administration and Labor for the opportunity to submit testimony on providing funding for charter schools equivalent to the DC Public Schools (DCPS) contract package with the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU).

My name is Ariel Johnson and I am 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. I am also a proud Ward 5 resident.

To get straight to the point: Public charter school educators deserve fair and competitive compensation. Public charter schools have provided raises for educators year over year for the past three years, including retention bonuses. Without equivalent funding to the WTU contract package the Council is considering today, charter schools won’t be able to competitively support the educators who serve nearly half of the District’s public school students.

The Heated Hiring Environment for Qualified Educators

At a time when educator recruitment and retention is the most challenging it’s ever been in our city, considering a proposal that will leave charter schools with significantly fewer resources to fairly compensate educators is on its face inequitable and problematic. Asking charter school leaders and teachers to continue serving students well with significantly fewer resources exacerbates inequity between the sectors, and ultimately hurts our most under-resourced students.

Leaders at both charter and traditional public schools have asked their educators to go above and beyond their typical roles. During the last three years, we applauded educators for the vital roles they played in stabilizing our communities while rapidly, and with impressive innovation, delivering education access to their students’ living rooms. We ask educators to act not only as teachers, but advocates, social workers, nurses, mediators, and community anchors.

And through it all, our city is suffering increased incidences of violence involving young people. Some of that violence has directly impacted our educators’ students or has taken place in the neighborhoods surrounding their schools. The toll of that violence weighs heavy on educators, and yet they still give of themselves physically and emotionally to shroud students in care and concern.

Simply put: educators are exhausted and burned out.|

In October 2022, the DC Alliance testified before the Committee of the Whole on how the public charter school community is addressing teacher retention. We described in detail the fiscal barriers to living in the District, the need for expanded affordable educator housing options or the compensation to affordably live in DC. Teachers want the option to live in and enjoy the city and communities they serve. That is not an unrealistic request. If the response to their hard work, long hours, and emotional labor is denying their schools the ability to fairly compensate them,  the District risks pushing even more educators out of the profession entirely.

Funding Equity for the Half of Students Served By Charter Schools

The new DCPS contract with the WTU is a significant investment in educators to ensure they have what they need to properly support the District’s students. Let me be clear: DCPS should absolutely have the funding they need to fairly compensate teachers and serve their students well. But denying equitable funding to public charter schools so that they can provide raises for their teachers makes absolutely no sense.

Nationally, the District has one of the lowest annual salaries (1) for teachers and the highest projected teacher turnover rate. (2) DC public charter school leaders are committed to using 100% of the equivalent contract funding to increase compensation for their educators, and they are preparing a joint letter memorializing this commitment to using these funds exclusively for this purpose.

Recommendation: Follow Precedent and Provide Equivalent Funding for Charter Schools

We urge the Administration to provide equivalent funding for charter schools, both retroactive and future appropriations. What we’re asking for from the city isn’t new – there is precedent (3) for providing equivalent funding to charter schools so that all public school teachers are fairly compensated and all students are equitably served. The last time DCPS ratified a contract with the WTU in 2017, the city rightly recognized the importance of equitable funding for all schools and provided an additional one-time payment to cover the equivalent retroactive raises, along with an increase to the UPSFF rate. We’re asking for the same treatment this time.

We understand there are finite resources available. But it shouldn’t matter if a family chooses a charter school or a traditional school to serve their student’s needs. And, our educators should not be penalized for choosing to work in the public charter school sector. Together, with the city, all of us in the public education sector must do everything we can to value and support teachers as they do the incredibly difficult work of making sure every student has the resources they need to feel supported, cared for, and attain academic success.

Thank you, and we welcome the opportunity to follow up with members of the Committees and their staff if they have any questions. Thank you to those Council members who have met with us on this important issue.

(1) Adjusted for cost of living.
(2) Best & Worst States for Teachers. Wallethub. September 19, 2022.
(3) Washington Teacher’s Union Contract and Impact on Charter LEA Funding. Deputy Mayor for Education & State Superintendent of Education. September 25, 2017.