The Districts Dime

Helping Low-Income Families Access High-Quality Schools

November 20th, 2014 | by Soumya Bhat

It appears that the recently adopted changes to the District’s school boundaries, feeder patterns and admissions policies may or may not move forward under the Bowser administration, with the possibility of revisions to the plan once she takes office in January. Despite this uncertainty, several of the recommended changes include key steps – outside of school boundary changes – to help low-income families access high-quality schools, and should not be derailed.

Source: flickr.com, brianjmatis

Source: flickr.com, brianjmatis

DCFPI thinks the following recommendations should be maintained:

Prioritize Placement for At-Risk Students: Starting in the 2016-17 school year, DCPS and public charter schools would set aside 25 percent of their out-of-boundary seats in the lottery process for low-income students. Currently, 20 DCPS and 12 public charter schools would be affected because of their current number of low-income students. This would promote socio-economic diversity, which is linked to improving outcomes for low-income students without adversely affecting middle class students, as long as a core of middle class children attend the school. The Advisory Committee on Student Assignment recommended that this preference apply to charter schools, in addition to DCPS, which would require a change in DC law.  

Neighborhood Access to Early Childhood Education Programs: Currently, children apply for Pre-Kindergarten through the lottery process, without a guaranteed seat at a child’s in-boundary school. The Committee recommended giving children who live near high-poverty DCPS schools (those that receive Title I funds) access by right to Pre-Kindergarten 3 and 4 slots in their zoned DCPS school. This makes sense for families who would prefer to send their young children to schools close to their home, and may help alleviate the struggle of lengthy wait lists for early childhood education slots at many DC schools. 

Subsidize Public Transit: Low-income families will need access to affordable transportation to truly be able to take advantage of new opportunities to attend out-of-boundary schools. While students can now ride MetroBus for free, their parents cannot, which is a problem for parents with very young children. That’s why the Committee’s recommendation to offer free bus passes to parents of students in Pre-K3 through 5th grade makes sense. 

As Mayor-elect Bowser reviews the boundary and admission changes, we hope that these positive steps will be allowed to move forward.

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DC Council Moves to Use DC-Owned Land To Create Affordable Housing

November 19th, 2014 | by Ed Lazere

The DC Council took an important step recently to ensure that affordable housing is built every time city-owned land is sold for residential development. The new law requires that up to 30 percent of housing developed from DC land will be affordable for low and very low-income residents. The new rules are needed because, even recently, the city has sold land with no affordable housing set-aside.

Photo by Ted Eytan: available by clicking here.

Photo by Ted Eytan: available by clicking here.

There were last-minute changes to the legislation, approved in late October, which will lessen its impact in some cases. Nevertheless, the outcome is a big step forward and demonstrates the District’s commitment to use all possible resources to make the city affordable to all residents.

The Disposition of District Land for Affordable Housing Act allows DC-owned land to be sold below market value, and in return, requires developers to make a portion of the new housing there affordable. This smart approach pairs private and public resources, creates mixed-income communities, and helps low-income residents live in developing areas with better job, school, and retail opportunities.

The new housing will be affordable to the city’s families who struggle the most with DC’s rising costs of living. A quarter of the affordable units in rental buildings will be for residents with incomes under $29,000 for a family of three (30 percent of AMI), and the rest will serve residents making up to $48,000 for a family of three (50 percent of AMI) For homeowner properties, the affordable units will be split between residents earning under $48,000 and those earning under $78,000 for a family of three (80 percent of AMI).

One of the changes adopted by the Council prioritizes public buildings — like libraries — over affordable housing when DC a project includes both housing and a public building. This means a developer could be required to use savings from buying DC land below-market value to build a new public building without having to make any of the new housing affordable.

Another amendment affects cases where the full affordable housing requirement may not be financially possible, if the land value is not enough to cover the cost. Under the initial legislation, DC’s independent Chief Financial Officer (CFO) would determine the maximum affordable housing possible from a given land sale. But a last-minute amendment made the CFO’s assessment advisory, rather than binding. This means that while an independent assessment may support 20 percent affordable housing in a given project, the developer, the mayor or DC Council could still push for a smaller set-aside.

Nevertheless, the new legislation creates a unique opportunity to use the rapid growth in property values to develop affordable housing units without using tax dollars. Low-income residents will get to live in mixed-income areas that have greater economic opportunities such as access to job centers, higher-quality schools, and greater public amenities.

In other words, the benefits of a growing DC will be spread a little bit wider.

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Helping DC Students Facing Health and Nutrition Challenges

November 12th, 2014 | by Jenny Reed

Low-income children are more likely to come to school hungry or to suffer from a serious illness that impacts their ability to learn. Improving school health and nutrition services reduces missed school days and helps ensure students some to school ready to learn, making it an important part of improving educational outcomes in the District.

By woodleywonderworks, at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2458666314/

By woodleywonderworks, at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/2458666314/

Children in DC rank worse than the national average on many health outcomes including asthma, obesity, and food insecurity. This is partly because child poverty in DC is higher than in the nation as a whole.

Schools are a great place to help students with health and nutrition needs. Students who eat school breakfast, for example, have higher test scores and fewer absences. Access to school health centers and school nurses makes it more likely that children will seek care, which reduces absences and increases the likelihood that students stay in school.

The District provides a number of health and nutrition services for students, and performs well in a number of ways. Yet there are gaps that could be addressed in the following ways:

  • Increase the number of school-based health centers. Bringing primary care services directly into the school increases student access to care, reduces health-care costs and improves academic outcomes. School-based health centers currently exist at only six DC high schools in school year 2014-15.
  • Increase the number of school nurses. Ten DC schools have student-to-nurse ratios that were well above industry standards. Also, one of 10 DC public schools, and more than one of seven public charter schools, has only a part-time nurse.
  • Increase participation in key health programs. Just over two thirds of students use school health centers, and just 19 schools have requested oral care services.  
  • Increase the number of schools that use innovative school breakfast practices. The District offers free breakfast for all students in all schools. While participation has grown since the mid-2000s, it has declined in recent years in some DC public schools. Increasing the use of innovative serving practices, like grab-and- go breakfasts, can help DC get back on track to boost participation in school breakfast.
  • Add a ‘Healthy School’ indicator on school ratings. DC schools are assessed on various academic measures, but not health and nutrition outcomes. Schools in Chicago, Colorado and Illinois report on health and nutrition standards, which prompts schools to be more engaged in how they could make their schools healthier. 

You can read more about what DC schools can be doing to help low-income children succeed here.

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Stronger Oversight of Medicaid Managed Care Could Mean Better Health Outcomes for Residents

November 10th, 2014 | by Wes Rivers

The District could be doing a better job of connecting residents on Medicaid with basic health services, which would improve health outcomes and avoid costly services that do not improve patient care. A recent report on the managed care organizations (MCOs) that serve 175,000 DC Medicaid participants suggests that better oversight and monitoring is needed to contain health care costs and improve health outcomes for DC residents.

In the District, most Medicaid recipients are assigned to one of three MCOs. The District pays each MCO a fee for each enrollee and in return the company reimburses doctors and hospitals for health care services used. Since the rate the District pays is fixed, the companies have an incentive to connect members with the services that will manage and improve their health.

Yet a report from the Department of Health Care Finance suggests that the three managed care organizations could be doing a better job. The share of Medicaid patients who see a primary care doctor each year has fallen steadily over the last nine months and is now at 70 percent. Seeing a primary care doctor regularly makes it more likely to manage health needs and reduces the likelihood of needing more costly services.

The inadequate basic care means that DC’s Medicaid managed care organizations incur millions in costs associated with poorly coordinated care. Over three-fifths of emergency room visits by DC Medicaid recipients are for basic care that could be avoided by regular visits to a primary care doctor. In addition, many Medicaid recipients who seek hospital care end up being re-admitted, and the new report shows that half of those readmissions could be avoided through better service delivery and follow-up care.

The District needs stronger oversight and performance evaluation of the Medicaid managed care program. Stronger performance standards will to lead to improved health outcomes among residents and fewer avoidable costs. Three areas that should be addressed to improve patient care include:

  • Ensuring a sufficient network of doctors. A major barrier to routine care is a lack of doctors available to see patients. The District can improve access to care by making sure that the MCO networks have a large number of providers available for patients, and that those providers are located throughout the community.
  • Providing access to a care coordination program. Care coordination means that patients’ needs are identified and that they are referred to an appropriate service provider. Many primary care clinics take on a care coordination role by acting as a “medical home” to their patients, providing on-going care, and storing and sharing electronic health records. It is important that MCOs attach their enrollees to a medical home and make sure they are getting this level of comprehensive care.  
  • Establishing outcome-based benchmarks of performance. The District has already begun to establish standards for the MCO’s financial performance and how well they manage the care of their enrollees. Those standards should be subject to public input and should be tied to improved health outcomes – especially outcomes related to health disparities that exist in the District.

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Steps to a Better DC United Stadium Deal

November 7th, 2014 | by Ed Lazere

We’ve been saying for a while that the plan to develop a new soccer stadium is really complicated. And, boy, was that confirmed this week – by a new 400-page consultant’s report and an assessment from DC’s Chief Financial Officer. Together, these documents suggest that a new stadium could bring economic benefits, especially if the stadium is accompanied by a hotel developed by the team.

But the new information also shows that the plan has a way to go before it is a good deal for DC residents. Rather than rushing, the District should take the time to get the deal right. 10-22-14 Soccer

  • DC’s Share of the Deal Would Be Over 50 Percent, Higher Than the Typical Deal.  The District would contribute at least $131 million in land and infrastructure, as well as $50 million in tax breaks. Together, that’s 63 percent of the total cost, which is higher than the government share in most soccer stadium deals.
  • Reeves Center Swap is a Financial Loser for DC.  The consultant’s report finds that the plan to trade the Reeves Center for stadium land with the developer Akridge would generate $25 million less than if the Reeves Center were sold to the highest bidder and if parcels of the stadium land were bought at market value.
  • Tax Breaks for DC United Are Not Justified. Most stadium deals do not include tax breaks for the team. DC’s Chief Financial Officer finds that the proposed sales and property tax breaks for DC United are not needed for the deal to go through.
  • Risks.  There are a number of unknowns, such as the full cost of environmental remediation or relocating a Pepco substation.

The consultant’s report finds that a new stadium will generate $109 million in economic benefits to DC over 32 years, but that assumes a stadium will last that long and that DC United builds an adjacent hotel, which is not required under the deal. Without the hotel, the net benefits are closer to $40 million over a 32-year period, about $1 million per year. 

These details suggest that the DC Council and mayor-elect Bowser should take time to review the deal and make it better for the District. Getting a new stadium for DC United is a good thing, but it is more important to get it right than to rush it and get it wrong.

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