Education

Librarians and Early Childhood Educators Clinch Budget Wins

This budget season culminated in a finalized budget that not only ensures every District public school has at least one librarian but also increases compensation for thousands of early childhood educators. These outcomes follow weeks of on-the-ground organizing by teachers, librarians and advocacy organizations.

To fund the compensation increase, the D.C. Council approved a tax bump on the District’s wealthiest residents. In what some have described as a surprising move, local lawmakers, instead of allocating more funds to D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), dedicated $3.25 million from the school system’s enrollment reserve to close the librarian gap at dozens of schools across the city.

DCPS teacher Laura Fuchs applauded the latter move, telling The Informer that without a librarian, teachers often shoulder the additional responsibility of curating research materials for students and fostering a love of reading through extracurricular activities.

“More often than not, DCPS is funding private projects with outside vendors instead of investing directly in our students for the long-term,” said Fuchs, who teaches at H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast.

“Strategically, giving DCPS more funds has allowed the bad behavior to continue. The D.C. Council has been too hands-off with how DCPS spends its money. This is not enough but it’s a start,” she said.

Out of the nearly 40 District public schools lacking a full-time librarian, nearly half are located in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Under its current enrollment-based budget model, DCPS allocates funds for librarians that principals can use at their discretion. In the past, principals, in tandem with the Local School Advisory Teams, have diverted those funds to meet other budgetary and staffing needs.

On Aug. 2, D.C. Councilmember Janeese Lewis George’s office submitted an amendment to allocate $3.25 million toward filling full-time librarian positions at 36 schools.

In her comments, Lewis George reflected on how librarians help students become acclimated to new virtual platforms and connect them to online resources.

The Ward 4 councilmember also lamented the manner in which school principals, especially those in the most marginalized communities, made cuts to library staff under what she described as pressure to meet other budgetary needs and improve standardized test scores.

“We can and should fix how D.C. decides which staff positions are required or optional for each school,” Lewis George said.

“A few years ago, DCPS made librarians optional,” she said. “Since then predictable patterns of inequity have creeped in. We’ve got to stop that if we want our schools to be set up for full recovery and improvement in the long run.”

At hearings throughout the year, D.C. council members echoed Lewis George’s sentiments, speaking about the need for a new funding structure that ensured consistency in staffing.

During the same time period, lobbying groups representing early child care workers highlighted a dilemma bubbling east of the Anacostia River where, without funding, education facilities and legacy businesses have struggled to retain high-quality staff.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s FY 2022 budget proposal included a $6 million pilot program that would allot bonuses of $1,500 to early child care educators who stayed within the profession or gained a credential over the next year.

However, early child care education advocates, particularly those affiliated with the DC Under Three coalition, wanted a more substantial and definite budget allocation.

In speaking about the increase of early child care educators’ compensation, Dr. Bernida Thompson heralded it as the ideal way to retain a strong workforce.

“It’s going to be much easier to recruit early childcare educators [because] they’re getting paid what they deserve, as opposed to them having to do something other than what they love,” said Thompson, principal of Roots Public Charter School.

“I have a steady staff but this [increase] allows my staff to be shown that they’re worthy and that their profession matters. That’ll make them stay and do the best job possible,” she said.

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