Newsletter: (Public) Schools of Thought

Dear Resident,

Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy had an interesting takeaway from Marion Barry in this morning’s paper. Milloy wrote that Barry told longtime confidante Fred Cooke he regretted he had not done more to improve DC public schools during his time in office. “Marion said: ‘We dropped the ball on education. We got caught up in economic development and didn’t do enough about making schools better across the city,’” Cooke told Milloy. 

This quote struck me for a few reasons. First, making our schools high-performing across the city remains one our greatest challenges. Second, I believe investing in our schools is economic development.

Chancellor Antwan Wilson’s resignation is only one of several public setbacks to DC Public Schools (DCPS) over recent weeks. As many of you know, I was one of the councilmembers who asked Wilson to resign. I came to that decision after talking at length with the Chancellor; I left the conversation lacking confidence in his judgment and ability to lead.

We face daunting challenges in DC public schools: a wide achievement gap between black and white students; persistent absenteeism and truancy; a destructive culture of using whatever means necessary to show student improvement; and competition for student enrollment from public charter schools. That said, we do have schools, classrooms, teachers and students who are achieving at a high level and can go even higher. We need to be able to support what is working while fixing what is broken. We can’t be passive about these challenges, and there is no easy or quick solution. We need a system of public education that will meet the needs of our students, and we must find some way to reconcile the certainty that a more neighborhood-driven school model has with the choice that has been a hallmark of charters and, now even increasingly, traditional public schools.

Though I do not serve on the Education Committee, I have frequently attended committee hearings over these last few years because of how important I think education is to the future of our city. In the past I have spent a lot of time focusing on birth to four years old and those 18 years old and up because child care and adult literacy are key issues to the Labor and Workforce Development Committee, which I chair. Now I am delving deeper into K through 12, both in DCPS and DC public charter schools.

You can find my statement on Chancellor Wilson’s resignation and my comments from last week’s oversight hearing on changes I hope to see DCPS address here.

LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

Labor and Workforce Development Committee: Chancellor Wilson is not the only high Fall_2016_04.JPGlevel departure from our government in recent days. This past Friday, Department of Employment Services (DOES) Director Odie Donald II announced his resignation to take a job in Georgia, and Unique Morris-Hughes was named as the interim director. This comes as my committee is about to hold oversight hearings on this critical agency. On Wednesday beginning at 10:00am, members of the public are invited to testify on the agency’s workforce programs, labor law enforcement, and unemployment insurance division. Interested public witnesses can sign up to testify by emailing labor@dccouncil.us. Due to a slow response to committee questions, I have moved the hearing of government witnesses for DOES, as well as the Workforce Investment Council and Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity, to Thursday, March 15, at 11:00am. You can find more details on the committee calendar here.

I am disappointed to learn of Director Donald's departure because it comes at a time when leadership at the agency is crucial. Despite our growing economy, unemployment and underemployment remains stubbornly high in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River. As DC's lead jobs agency, DOES is essential to helping close this opportunity gap and therefore lessen our income inequality. For the $150 million dollars we spend on workforce development every year, we need to measure how successful we are at getting District residents not just jobs but living wage careers. Additionally, I was working with Director Donald on strategic enforcement of our labor laws, so that the agency focuses its resources on holding bad employers accountable and making sure our workers get paid fairly.

I am also concerned that Director Donald was the administration's point man on implementation of the District's landmark paid leave program. My understanding is that he had been working on hiring for the newly-created Office of Paid Family Leave, as well as visiting other states with paid leave programs and coordinating the contracting process for technology. As many workers are looking forward to the program's launch in July 2020 and employers are expecting the payroll tax collection to begin in July of next year, I will work with the Bowser administration to make sure that Director Donald's departure does not slow down the process of putting paid leave into effect.

Performance Oversight Con’t: Over the last few weeks, the Labor and Workforce Development Committee has held performance oversight hearings for other agencies under its purview. You can find a recap of hearing materials for the Office on Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining, Office of Human Resources, Office of Risk Management, Office of Employee Appeals, and the Public Employee Labor Relations Board here. Archived videos of the hearings are available here.

Prioritizing District Needs in the Budget: In preparation for budget season, which comes right on the heels of performance oversight, I sent a letter to Mayor Bowser with my budget priorities for Fiscal Year 2019. It includes requests for funding to:

  • Increase Department of Parks and Recreation summer camp slots and extend pool hours
  • Implement our newly-passed public financing program for elections
  • Curb the negative impacts of policies from the Trump administration and Congress
  • Ensure District families have a paid family leave program in 2020
  • Expand workforce opportunities for District residents, especially youth
  • Preserve and increase the city’s affordable housing stock
  • Increase affordable childcare options and out-of-school time programs
  • Build the Union Market metro tunnel
  • Incentivize District businesses to pay a living wage and recognize industry leaders

You can read my full letter of FY19 budget priorities here.

COMMUNITY UPDATES

You’re Invited: Join me and the Labor and Workforce Committee for a guided tour of The Sweat of Their Face: Portraying American Workers, an exhibit currently at The National Portrait Gallery highlighting representations of American laborers across decades on Saturday, March 17, from 3:15-4:15pm! The exhibit is next to the Obama portraits, so it could be a two-fer! In celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, we will migrate to a nearby location for a drink afterward. Sign up to join us here.

Black History Month Recap: A special thanks to my staff and Council colleagues for organizing and IMG_2394.JPGsupporting the Council's 2018 Celebration of Black History in the District. For the second year, the Council honored two outstanding public school students for special contributions to their communities. Congratulations to Garrison Elementary’s D’Yor Giles and Somerset Preparatory Academy Public Charter School’s Keith Moore for receiving the 2018 Black History Month Influential Leader Award! You can read about what makes these students so impressive here.

DPR 2018 Spring Break Camp Registration: The DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) has opened registration for camps during DC Public Schools' spring break that will happen from 9:00am to 5:00pm on Monday, March 26, through Friday, March 30. Programs are available for children ages 3 to 13 years old. Parents may register and find additional information here.

Upcoming Events:

  • DOES, WIC, and DMGEO Performance Oversight Hearing (Public Witnesses Only): Wednesday, March 7, at 10:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 500, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
  • DOES, WIC, and DMGEO Performance Oversight Hearing (Government Witnesses Only): Thursday, March 15, at 11:00am at the John A. Wilson Building (Room 500, 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW)
  • Portrait Gallery Tour with Councilmember Silverman: Saturday, March 17, from 3:15-4:15pm at the National Portrait Gallery (8th and F Streets NW)

Thanks so much for reading.

Elissa.