During a recent legislative session, the D.C. Council unanimously approved the consolidation of its Committee on Education into the Committee of the Whole, where issues concerning the District’s public and public charter schools will share space with a bevy of other topics.
Despite pushback among some constituents in the weeks preceding the vote, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) described his recommendation as one that would better allow him and his colleagues to scrutinize instruction of nearly 100,000 K-12 students.
“I want to use oversight to press the public schools to move faster and further in closing the achievement gap and ensuring quality schools throughout the city, not just in certain neighborhoods,” Mendelson told The Informer.
Mendelson later outlined issues he would focus his attention on during upcoming oversight hearings, including D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee’s reopening plan and what he described as the school system’s abnormally high teacher turnover rate.
“It’s quite possible that my colleagues have a number of bills in their mind, but I’m convinced that improving education is a function of the classroom,” Mendelson said. “We don’t need to pass a law to suddenly get better teaching. We need to ensure we have better teachers, and the Council has a role in that through the oversight process.”
In another move that irritated some District residents, Mendelson removed D.C. Councilmembers Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) and Trayon White (D-Ward 8) from the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, and replaced them with Councilmembers Brooke Pinto (D-Ward 2) and Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5).
Mendelson’s other recommendations, made after extensive meetings with other council members, involved the merging of the Committee on Government Operations and the Committee on Facilities and Procurement, creating a special committee in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and assigning oversight of cultural agencies, the Office of Cable Television, and District public libraries to the Committee on Recreation, Libraries, and Youth Affairs.
Over the last couple of years, the Committee on Education, under then At-large D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I), worked closely with the Committee of the Whole.
As part of that arrangement, the committees held joint hearings and the Committee of the Whole, which includes all 13 council members, marked up pending education legislation.
Education committee hearings during that two-year period focused on distance learning, the public library system, charter school transparency and curbing truancy. Within that same time, legislation originating from this committee centered on the creation of an education data auditor and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s separation from the Executive Office of the Mayor.
Throughout the pandemic, local parents like LaJoy Law of Ward 8 have been persistent voices, especially on resource allocation and resumption of in-person instruction, matters she said equally affect public and public charter students living east of the Anacostia River.
Consolidation of the Committee on Education into the Committee of the Whole, raises fears, Law said,l that parents in her community will have much less impact in legislative affairs.
“The mayor and D.C. Council are the deciding factor on things concerning education, and I’m just afraid that things will get lost in the sauce with so much going on,” she told The Informer.
“Education costs money and the city isn’t making that much money [during the pandemic] so what are we really doing?” Law added.
“As a Ward 8 mother, I’m very disheartened. Ward 8 already has a hard time speaking with the different advocacy-related challenges. This is another barrier. The other wards in the city will be fine. We all know that.”