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The District has a $200 million budget surplus. Fully funding our schools should be a priority!
On April 27, I testified at the D.C. City Council’s hearing on the DCPS budget for Fiscal Year 2018. I raised a number of issues that the union considers important to its members and the children and families they serve, including local school budgets, per-pupil funding and community schools.
In recent weeks, I’ve met with educators in schools across the city and I’m hearing a similar refrain regarding local school budgets and how they are being developed. Members complain that critical budget and staffing decisions are being made without the input of those closest to our children—classroom teachers. They are worried that essential services for our kids will be eliminated or cutback based on top-down budget decisions—and the union shares that concern.
Like many of our members, I’m particularly concerned about those schools serving our most disadvantaged kids. Schools where the achievement gap is growing rather than narrowing.
It is disheartening to see the continued disparities in how DC public schools are funded. For FY 2018, schools in Wards 7 and 8 are again losing more funds than other schools in the District. The worst thing we can do is cut funding for these schools. The District enjoys a budget surplus of more than $200 million. Fully funding our schools should be a priority!
In January, a public school working group convened by Mayor Bowser recommended a 3.5% increase to the per-pupil funding level. This 3.5% increase would fully fund our schools, keep pace with rising costs, and help ensure that all students have access to the resources they need.
However, the Mayor proposed just a 1.5% increase in the per-pupil funding level for the upcoming school year.
Per pupil spending in DCPS schools has been steadily declining and schools are increasingly being forced to do more with less. That sends the message to parents, teachers, school administrators, and, indeed, our children, that public education is not a priority for our city and its leaders. I’ve urged the D.C. Council to remedy this gap in funding by adjusting the FY2018 budget to include a 3.5% increase in per-pupil funding.
Community schools with wraparound services have proven to be a highly effective strategy for organizing and coordinating community resources to support student and family needs. DCPS continues to increase the number of these schools here in the District. And the union applauds that. But we need more. The WTU has joined with the Coalition of Community Schools in strongly recommending to the Mayor and City Council that funding for the Community Schools Incentive Act be doubled in 2018; to increase the number of grantees to 12 from the original 6.
Over the past few weeks, dozens of members have contacted the WTU regarding the student surveys that DCPS is using to evaluate teachers. These surveys, which are expected to make up 10 percent of a teacher's evaluation, are the absolutely wrong way to assess teacher performance. The school system is ignoring the unintended consequences of the surveys, including students using them to get back at teachers they don't like.
The implementation of these student surveys without teacher or union involvement and buy-in has led to real concern about how the survey results will end up being used. Many members have complained about the inconsistent manner in which the surveys are being administered from school to school. All of this breeds mistrust and is bad for teacher morale.
DCPS should work with the union and teachers to create well-designed student surveys that can cultivate trust and be helpful in providing for real, actionable feedback.
Elizabeth Davis, President
WTU is committed to representing every educator in the District of Columbia Public Schools