The FY 2019 Budget Must Serve All DC Students.
As educators, we have dedicated our lives to serving the students of Washington, DC. We work hard to provide world class educational opportunities for each and every student, regardless of race, ethnic group or zip code. Through the DC budget, DC government can do more to create greater opportunities for all students and to close the rapidly-growing opportunity gaps between students of color and white students, as well as between low-income students, who are burdened with problems stemming from living in poverty, and their more affluent peers.
In the Fiscal Year 2019 budget, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) calls on the District of Columbia to equitably resource schools to meet growing needs, fund commitments made to District students, invest in the readiness of DC schoolchildren, and strive to serve the academic, social-emotional and health needs of all students.
Equitably Fund Schools to Meet Growing Needs
The Fiscal Year 2019 School Funding Formula Increase Should Be Enough to Cover Growing Enrollment, Rising Cost of Living, and Resource Equity
DC school funding remains well below what schools need to prepare all PreK to12the grade students for success. There are distressing differences between the educational outcomes for white students and students of color. Economically disadvantaged students are also faring far worse than their wealthier peers. More educators and support staffers are needed to meet the needs of students.
WTU members are joining forces with education advocates citywide to ensure the FY 2019 education budget truly allows every student to meet their highest potential. We urge DC leaders to increase the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) based on what is required to meet three critical needs:
- Growing Enrollment: enrollment in both DCPS and public charters has been growing steadily, which means we need more teachers, classroom materials and programs to serve larger student bodies.
- Rising Cost of Living: because of arbitrary increases in school funding since the Great Recession, school funding has largely not kept pace with inflation, reducing the purchasing power of every school’s budget.
- Improving the Equity of Resources: “at-risk” funds can be a powerful way to increase the equity of local school funding. The city’s funding formula promises additional money to schools to better support low-income students and those falling behind in the classroom. But because of budget constraints over the last few years, roughly half of those “at-risk” funds are used to pay for regular staff positions, instead of resources aimed at improving outcomes for students who qualify for “at-risk” funding. This is unacceptable. Every dollar of “at-risk” funding in FY 2019 should be dedicated to targeted services for low-income and academically struggling students.
To truly understand what it costs to effectively support DC schools and students, DC leaders should also update and improve the 2013 Education Adequacy study, improve school budget transparency, and automatically adjust the UPSFF for inflation each year. The FY 2019 budget should reveal limited, practical spending on central administration, so that the vast majority of resources support staff and programming at the school level.
Fund Commitments DC Government Has Made to District Students
Implement the 2014 Special Education Reforms: Early Intervention for More Children, Faster Evaluations, and Better Transition Planning
Many special education students in DC do not get the supports they need to succeed; by high school, fewer than one in 10 are college and career ready. Three critical special education reforms would align services with best practices and would better support teachers, but have been on hold since 2014 due to lack of funding. Families have been waiting too long. It is time for DC leaders to commit to:
- Early Intervention for More Children: Birth to age three is a crucial time for brain and body growth. Yet too many babies and toddlers — especially low-income children — fall behind because they have unaddressed developmental delays in areas like language and motor skills. Almost half of children who get early intervention services completely catch up to their peers.
- Faster Evaluation: Currently, schools have 120 days to complete evaluations for special education, the longest timeline in the nation. That means a child can struggle without services for half the school year. Faster diagnosis prevents lost learning time for students, and months of stress for their families.
- Better Transition Planning: One year after graduating or leaving school, two-thirds of youth with disabilities in DC are not in college or working. Individual transition plans help youth with disabilities figure out how to take steps towards their personal aspirations for college, career, and independent living. Youth do better when they have robust support from their schools and families, and when they start transition planning earlier, at age 14—before choosing their high school.
Stop School Push-out: Provide More Resources for Restorative Justice in Schools
Black students in Washington, DC are more than seven times more likely to be suspended than their white peers. This racial disparity has been allowed to grow for too long. Chancellor Wilson stated his intention last year to expand Restorative Justice to 74 schools, but without any additional funding from DC to do so. We must invest in the programs that better serve the social and emotional needs of our students. DC leaders should also allocate money for a Positive School Climate Fund, empowering teachers and schools to pursue other evidence-based solutions to stop school push-out.
When schools rely on suspension or expulsion as discipline methods, they create more problems than they solve. Students miss lessons, fall behind when they return, and are more likely to drop out. By fully funding Restorative Justice, our schools would have the resources they need to better address the root causes of disruptive behavior. Students acquire the skills to manage their emotions and actions, learn to take responsibility for their mistakes, develop a greater sense of empathy, strengthen relationships, and repair harm. Teachers are better supported in managing the classroom without interrupting the learning of individual students. A more positive school climate allows for greater attention to academics, benefiting everyone and boosting student performance. We must expand investments to realize the goals of this program.
Invest in the Readiness of DC Schoolchildren
Afterschool and Summer Enrichment Opportunities for Every Low-Income Student
As teachers, we understand that after school and out of school time (OST) programs improve academic, social, and health outcomes, and give parents peace of mind knowing their children are in a safe environment while they work. But DC’s funding for afterschool and summer programming has declined 63 percent since 2010. There are now more children waiting to get into afterschool programs than are enrolled. A lack of summer opportunities means low-income students and students of color are more likely to fall behind their peers. Low-income students should have the same kind of enriching, out-of-school-time opportunities as their higher-income peers.
DC should invest $25 million for the nearly 6,000 children without afterschool options and the 25,000 children without summer programming.
Pay Providers Enough to Give Quality Care & Education to Infants & Toddlers
Quality early learning environments help infants and toddlers enter PreK3 ready for school and they help accelerate their growth in the classroom. Early education is the foundation for a lifetime of learning—it’s how we shape the citizens of tomorrow
Low-income parents rely on the District to share the high cost of quality child care through the child care subsidy program. But under-funding the District’s child care subsidy program is preventing the District from fully supporting the healthy development of all infants and toddlers. Payments to child care providers are well below the level needed to give children a high quality education, leaving many providers struggling to make ends meet. Many are forced to close. Low-income families often cannot secure continuous, high-quality education for their youngest children. Underinvestment in early childhood education has damaging lifetime effects and intensifies DC’s deep racial and economic inequality. Beginning at birth, low-income children and children of color experience fewer opportunities, and face larger barriers to academic achievement.
The District’s early educators are largely women of color who must support their own families on meager wages ($29,000 on average). Low wages in this important sector contribute to both gender and racial disparities in earnings. The WTU recognizes the valuable work of our fellow educators serving children from birth to three, and we believe they should be compensated accordingly.
DC should build on our Pre-K successes and realize our responsibility to fully support the education of infants and toddlers. Legislation introduced by Councilmembers Gray and R. White charts a path towards identifying and funding the full cost of educating low-income children in the subsidy program. We urge DC leaders to adopt that legislation and set aside money to implement it, starting with $11 million in Fiscal Year 2019.
Schools Should Serve the Whole Person
Empower Community Schools to Better Support Families & Neighborhoods
Schools are among our most important and trusted community institutions. The District recognizes that schools can build on that strength to become community hubs, to connect children and their families with services that strengthen the whole community. Under the “Community Schools” model, schools build partnerships with community-based resources to deliver services like health care, afterschool programs, adult education, or early childhood programming. These “integrated student supports” in turn can lead to engaged families, stronger communities, and better academic outcomes. Community Schools provide needed resources in communities of color and lower-income neighborhoods that do not have the same resources as higher-income communities. In the coming year, every school that wants to become a “Community School” should have enough resources to become one.
Ensure a Full-time Nurse in Every School
Every school have a full-time nurse to care for the needs of students. A third of District students have a chronic illness including asthma, ADHD, and others. School nurses support DC students and teachers by decreasing chronic absenteeism, improving outcomes for students with chronic health conditions, increasing immunization compliance and raising retention rates for students with mental health conditions. The WTU joins our fellow school workers, the members of the District of Columbia Nurses Association, in calling on DC government to fully fund the Public School Health Services Amendment Act of 2017.