EducationLocal

Parents, Teachers Question D.C. Budget Proposal

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s proposed fiscal year 2020 budget places millions of dollars into technology, early child care, school modernization and other projects school leaders said will accentuate District families’ academic experience.

For some parents, teachers and education advocates however, a reduction in the base budget for neighborhood schools serving students in Wards 7 and 8 has overshadowed those investments, further calling into question  D.C. Public Schools’ commitment to its most under-resourced young people.

The public outcry recently reached the steps of the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest, where the D.C. Council Committee on Education will mark up the budget at the end of this week. In the weeks leading up the D.C. Council’s final deliberation on the matter, affected parties said they will continue to mobilize on behalf of disillusioned parents.

“They keep cutting the budget because enrollment is going down, but it’s going down because of disinvestment from the city,” said Ward 7 parent Shawn Jegede, one of several protestors who converged on the Wilson Building on April 25 in response to funding cuts for nearly two dozen schools, the majority of which serve student east of the Anacostia River.

Earlier this month, Jegede and a colleague launched an online petition to change the mayor’s proposed budget. As of Tuesday, it garnered nearly 400 signatures.

On April 25, the mother of two charter school students testified before the D.C. Council in an effort to attract amenities such as language courses and services for special needs students to public K-12 institutions within proximity of her home.

That infusion of funds, she said, would increase the quality of education in her community so that she and other parents wouldn’t have to send their children several miles — and many bus rides — away for specialized instruction.

“My son is on the autism spectrum and I haven’t been able to find schools in my ward that satisfy his needs,” Jegede said. “The only school for high-functioning autistic students are all the way across the city. I requested that the mayor’s budget puts back in the funds taken out, and adds even more money for an intervention plan that puts competitive programs in those schools.”

The proposed 2020 budget reflects an annual process that kicked off last fall and involved DCPS’ central office, principals, and an advisory board comprised of parents and other members of the community.

Using enrollment data from the three previous school years, the central office projected the student population of every school, and calculated the base budget with those figures. It also allowed principals of each school to appeal the budget projection and request additional staff and resources.

The dozen-plus schools based in Wards 7 and 8 affected by budget cuts had relatively low enrollment projections. DCPS officials said additional investments not reflected in the base figures tackle institutional barriers that have long prevented children in those communities from academically advancing.

The Pathways to Opportunity program, for instance, pours $5 million into eight comprehensive schools and launches two early college programs. Another $7.6 millon expands school-based mental health services and connects schools with local agencies to engage families and provide wraparound services.

“When enrollment changes, you see the impact at the school level,” said Amy Maisterra, interim deputy chancellor of Innovations and Systems Improvement. “The mayor added these investments outside of the school budget to make sure we support the schools. We are creating significant investments in Ward 7 and 8 schools. This is [part of] a deep planning process with students and families to make sure that we’re investing in schools that need it the most.”

Even with additional funds to select schools, Washington Teachers’ Union President Elizabeth Davis said the degree to which parents have been involved in the budget process remains a top concern.

She also has launched a petition in advance of the D.C. Council Committee on Education’s May 2 markup of the budget, expressing hope that parents reach out to their elected officials.

Neither Council members Vincent C. Gray (D-Ward 7) nor Trayon White (D-Ward 8), both members of the council’s education committee, returned requests for comment.

“In the conversation about the school budget, I want teachers and parents to realize that the council is supposed to follow our directive,” Davis said. “We want to secure 5,000 signatures and deliver them to the doorsteps of the members of the Education Committee. The schools in Wards 7 and 8 are ignored and under-resourced, and some parents don’t have the capacity for outreach.”

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