Will Education Get Its Fair Share of Council Oversight?
The recent change in DC Council leadership has sparked an important issue for fiscal oversight: Will the Council return to a stand-alone education committee?
Despite education being one of the largest areas of the DC budget—agencies include the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, DC Public Schools, and the Public Charter School Board–the Council’s education committee has resided within the Committee of the Whole since 2007. Sure, assigning the responsibility of keeping our education system accountable to all council members sounds good in theory. But, in reality, only a few council members and staff actually show up at budget oversight hearings covering $1.6 billion in funding and hours of public testimony.
Many education advocates, including DC VOICE, SHAPPE, 21st Century School Fund, and Empower DC have expressed the need for DC to have an education committee separate from the Committee of the Whole. DCFPI agrees. Not only will this realignment allow the Council to give the agencies that deal with education funding and policies the focused attention and oversight they deserve, it can also help the Council articulate a clear vision and give the public a sense that the Council truly makes education a priority.
An education committee also could help shepherd a number of initiatives adopted this year by the DC Council. DC’s budget for next year includes funding for four new pilot initiatives, such as incentivizing highly effective teachers to work in under-performing schools, putting in place tools to identify students at risk of falling behind, and creating “community schools” that provide broader services to their community. All of these were championed by former DC Council Chair Kwame Brown. With the change in leadership at the Council, these pilot programs may or may not be sustained over time without adequate political will and community support — the kind of support that a DC Council education committee could provide.