I want to share my thinking on the final recommendations put forth by the advisory committee on student assignment and school boundaries.
I believe this was an important endeavor, because there has not been a comprehensive review of our school boundaries for more than 45 years. This has led to a confusing and chaotic feeder system--one eye-popping stat from the report is that there are 109 boundaries for 74 elementary and middle schools--and that has left many parents lost, without a clear and predictable educational community for their families to be a part of. That does not serve our kids, our parents, our neighborhoods or our city well in the long run.
Because of these considerations, Mayor Gray has decided to accept the committee’s recommendations, and move forward with implementation.
I think it's important to keep in mind the mission and scope of the committee's work: to create clarity and predictability, and to provide for equitable access in student assignment while maintaining DC’s commitment to a neighborhood-based schooling model.
In my approach to the recommendations, I think about the DC Council's role and how I, as an at-large council member, can have an impact on how the recommendations are implemented. Having pored over the recommendations and accompanying data, I think the most important role for the council is to enact a legislative recommendation that would help provide students across the city with equitable access to out-of-boundary DCPS and charter schools.
I believe that ensuring socioeconomic diversity in our schools is critical because poverty is one of the biggest educational barriers students and schools face. That's why I support the Council's move this year to add a poverty weight to the per-pupil funding formula to create a more level playing field in our schools, and why I intend to push the Council to ensure that these funds follow the students they are intended to serve. Some schools in our public school system are able to supplement their resources with contributions from parents and community members and foundations but others are not, creating a lack of equity in our system. And the schools most likely to suffer from a lack of external resources tend to be the same schools that serve students with higher needs.
The poverty weight is an important step toward school equity. But it doesn't create socioeconomic diversity within schools. That's why I am supportive of Recommendation 23 from the boundary committee, which will set aside 25 percent of out-of-boundary seats in the lottery process at low-poverty schools for students from low-income households. The recommendation would apply to both DC public schools and DC public charter schools. I understand that the charter schools representative resigned from the committee, and I look forward to meeting with charter school representatives to understand their objections. In looking at the data set provided by the committee, this recommendation would offer more than 500 seats in low-poverty schools, which are often some of our highest performing schools, to students from low-income households. I support including charters in this program because our charter schools are public schools, and I believe there should be a level playing field between DCPS and DC public charter schools in this area.
From what I see in the data, 20 DCPS schools would be impacted and 13 public charter schools. The recommendation would make 285 seats available to low-income students in charters and 226 seats available in our DCPS schools. You can see the data here.
The low-income set aside and the poverty weight are only two ways in which the Council can act to improve educational equity and school performance next session. For example, I think part of the importance of creating clear and predictable feeder patterns is to create educational communities that have a foundation in strong Pre-K-3/4, build through elementary school, then feed into middle and high schools that retain those strengths. That's why I am interested in digging into the schools budget and looking for money to truly fund universal pre-K-3 and 4. The current recommendations would provide a guaranteed slot by right in high-poverty schools but I think we need to make pre-kindergarten a part of our public school curriculum for all students. Parents can opt out, but every child should have access to high-quality early childhood education.
I also think we need to think about ways to support families, so that out-of-boundary access and charter schools are real options for families with limited resources. For example, an attendee at a recent meet and greet event asked me whether parents of youngsters benefit from the "kids ride free" program, which allows our public school students to take Metro free of charge. Currently, the answer is no. I very much support expanding the program, so that parents can use public transportation to get their young children to school, and I am glad to see the boundary committee also recommended giving bus passes to parents of students from low-income households.
These sorts of concrete legislative proposals can have a real impact on our kids and their families, and I look forward to working to get them done on the Council.