Agency Budget Hearing, Fiscal Year 2016, District of Columbia Public Schools
DC Action testified during the DCPS FY16 budget hearing this week. Our remarks focused on 4 main areas: funding programs that work, mental health supports for young students, school health services and teacher supports. Read our full remarks below:
Testimony of Tim Vance, Policy Analyst
DC Action for Children
Agency Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year 2016
District of Columbia Public Schools
Before the Committee on Education
Council of the District of Columbia
April 23, 2015
Good morning, Councilmember Grosso and members of the Committee on Education. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council as it reviews the proposed fiscal year 2016 budget for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). My name is Tim Vance. I am a policy analyst at DC Action for Children.
DC Action for Children (“DC Action”) provides data-based analysis and policy leadership on critical issues facing DC children and youth, to promote policies and actions that optimize child and family well-being.
Funding Programs that Work
We believe that sound policy that supports the well-being of children should be informed by rigorous research and local data. We found much to like in the proposed DCPS budget for FY16. We applaud DCPS for using data to inform their decision to expand the extended school day initiative to include all comprehensive high schools.
We are also glad to see that DCPS continues to focus on improving literacy in many of the city’s lowest performing schools by providing additional reading teachers and literacy specialists. However, given that only 27% of students in DCPS’ 40 lowest performing schools were proficient in reading last year—just a 1.6% increase since 2011—we would like more information about the extent that these initiatives, as they are currently structured, have been successful and how DCPS plans to improve these supports going forward. Specifically, we would like to know whether any of the individual literacy programs or partners used in different schools have been more successful than others and can be expanded or whether other literacy support models should be considered.
Mental Health Supports for Young Students
The budget process is not easy; resources are not limitless, and prioritizing certain programs often means making tough choices to reallocate funding from other areas. However, it is important that budget cuts do not significantly undermine the larger goals of our school system or fail to account for existing, or growing, unmet student needs. The expansion of IDEA Part C eligibility and the recent ban on suspending or expelling prekindergarten-aged children are both important examples of policies that align with DCPS’ larger mission to improve educational equity in our school system. However, we are concerned that the new budget also contains an $863,000 reduction in funding for Early Stages. We want to ensure that this reduction, coupled with the concurrent cuts in funding for early childhood mental health services through the Department of Behavioral Health, does not prevent DCPS from fully realizing the potential of these initiatives. As more young students are eligible for special education services, and teachers will need additional supports to maintain safe learning environments in their classrooms, it is important that our capacity to assess, diagnose, and treat young children with developmental delays or behavioral issues is sufficient to meet these new demands. That is why our testimony at the hearing on the Pre-K Student Discipline Amendment Act stressed the importance of expanding the mental health services available in early childhood programs. We hope the committee on education will continue to work with the Department of Behavioral Health and other relevant agencies to ensure that adequate resources are in place to support our young students.
We would also like more information on the proposed $2.4 million reduction in funding for Health Services under the Office of the Chief of Schools. Children from low-income families are more likely to suffer from asthma, vision and hearing impairments, or other preventable health issues, all of which affect children’s readiness and ability to learn. That is why it’s important that all of our public schools have adequate school-based health services that meet the needs of the student population. While school nurses are primarily funded through the Department of Health, school health services are another example of the importance of cross-agency cooperation to support our students. Given that funding for school nurses has remained flat for the last 8 years while DCPS enrollment has risen substantially, we hope that the relevant agencies are working together to ensure that students have access to the health services they need to succeed.
We also wanted to enquire about the more than $7 million reduction to the budget for Teacher Supports. An analysis of teacher quality in the District released last year by EdCORE indicated that while overall teacher effectiveness has improved since the passage of the PERAA, the gap in teacher effectiveness between more affluent and underserved wards remains large. It is possible that this funding has been reclassified or reallocated to another agency or division, but we want to ensure DCPS continues to prioritize policies to attract, retain, and develop good teachers across the city’s public schools.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
 EdCORE (2014). DC Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA) Report No. 3: Trends in Teacher Effectiveness in the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) School Years 2008-2009 – 2012-2013.