Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia Committee of the Whole at the Public Hearing on Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021

Sep 23, 2022

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee. My name is Ariel Johnson and I am the new 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. Charter schools are strong, vibrant, and must continue to provide families with the options they deserve, and I’m honored to work with the Council and our partners across the city to achieve these goals.
I want to start by thanking you, Chairman Mendelson, for your leadership in pushing for transparency and understanding for school budgeting, and we share the ultimate goal of making sure the maximum amount of resources possible lands in local schools under the direction of school leaders.

However, I also want to make it clear that charter school leaders do not believe it’s our place to comment on how DCPS conducts their budgeting process, and we aren’t here today to weigh in on a particular budgeting methodology. In fact, we strongly favor individual school leaders having the ability to independently manage their own budgets. That’s a practice that has allowed charter schools to be nimble and respond quickly to needs to serve their students, particularly during the pandemic.

Funding Equity

But, as with any changes to school funding practices, charter schools leaders always want to make sure equity in funding for all public schools is front and center. All DC schools have faced enormous challenges as they work to serve students, especially during the ongoing pandemic. For many of our 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. Regardless of whether a family chooses a traditional or charter school, and regardless of where in the District that school is located, funding and resources must be equitable.
We understand that there are finite resources available. But the pandemic has had devastating impacts on our public education system. Recovery from these impacts is long-term and ongoing for students, especially for our communities most impacted. That’s why we must continue to focus on making sure students, teachers, and school leaders have everything they need to learn and thrive.

Access to Adequate and Fair Resources

To do that, we need the Council to take appropriate action to make sure that each 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. That means strengthening our city’s funding practices to ensure that all local education funding is provided through the Uniform Per Student Funding formula to ensure students served by charter schools and DCPS receive equitable resources. We in the charter community do have some concerns that this bill as currently written could exacerbate existing funding inequities that result from the longstanding practice of budgeting DCPS based on projected enrollment versus charter schools, which are funded based on audited enrollment. Additionally, we feel our most vulnerable students should be prioritized, as we have not committed to fully funding the weight for students designated “at risk” to the level recommended by the 2013 education adequacy study.

That’s why we greatly appreciate the Chairman’s efforts to identify funding practices in the last budget cycle that provide greater predictability in school budgets while providing more targeted support for schools serving large proportions of students designated as “at-risk.” This innovative, transparent, and equitable solution is the kind of creative thinking we need now more than ever to close the funding gap for students designated “at-risk,” and we encourage the Council to continue finding ways to support these students.
We also want to make sure that education funding in the future takes our country’s growing inflation concerns into consideration. As you’ve heard from charter school leaders directly, inflation has already impacted their budgets, even despite the historic increase in the UPSFF foundation level for FY23. Our schools must be able to hire and retain teachers and fund the resources they need to provide students with the education they deserve.

Moving Forward

As we move forward into the next school year and beyond, charter school leaders will seek continued, increased, and equitable investments and policies in public education to ensure that every student in our city has the opportunity to receive a high-quality public education. Equity must be at the center of everything we do.
Thank you for your time and attention to the critical issue of school funding equity and stability.