Testimony of Ilana Boivie at the FY 2016 Performance Oversight Hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Education

Chairman Grosso and members of the Committee on Education, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Ilana Boivie, and I am the Senior Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI is a non-profit organization that promotes opportunity and widespread prosperity for all residents of the District of Columbia through thoughtful policy solutions.

I would like to focus my testimony today on the need for transportation subsidies for adult learners in the District.

First, I would like to thank the DME’s office for its thorough and thoughtful report entitled, “The Need for Transportation Subsidies and Assistance for Adult Learners,”[1] which was completed in the fall of 2016. The report details both the significant need for transportation assistance among adult learners, as well as potential policy solutions to fill this need.

The District of Columbia’s recent economic progress is undermined by an income inequality crisis. By 2018, 70 percent of jobs will require some post-secondary education or training. Meanwhile, some 60,000 DC residents lack a high school diploma or equivalent.[2] Over half of the students in adult education programs test at a sixth-grade level or below in reading and/or math, and it takes time for learners to build their skills and advance to the next level of their career or education.

Low literacy and low educational attainment are root causes of poverty, unemployment, poor health and homelessness. Adults without a high school credential are seven times more likely to live in poverty than those with a credential. The unemployment rate of D.C. residents without a high school degree is five times that of residents with a bachelor’s degree.[3]

DCFPI is an active member of the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition. Adult learners who receive services from AFLC providers have cited the high cost of transportation as a significant issue for several years now. For example:

  • In the fall of 2015, DC AFLC, in conjunction with the Fair Budget Coalition, hosted learner listening sessions, and heard that the cost of transportation is one of the biggest barriers to learners attending and remaining in educational programs.
  • In the spring of 2016, DC AFLC members surveyed nearly 1,000 adult learners to better understand how transportation presents a barrier to them. Over a third of adult learners reported their biggest concern was regarding the cost of transportation, and that the high cost can prevent them from attending school.
  • In the fall of 2016, DC AFLC hosted an essay contest for adult learners across the District asking about the biggest barriers learners are facing. Over 100 submissions were received, and 20 of those essays focused on transportation.

Unlike students through age 22—who do not have to pay to ride Metrorail and bus because they are enrolled in the Kids Ride Free program—students over age 22 currently pay the full price, which poses a significant financial burden that often threatens an individual’s success in adult education programming. Without the ability to afford to commute to school, residents can be stuck in an endless cycle of enrolling and stopping out.

Commuting costs vary, but if a learner rides the bus to school, a transportation subsidy could save some $70/month—perhaps even more if the learner needs to ride Metrorail. This additional money could be spent on other basic needs, such as food, utilities, or the ever-increasing cost of housing in the District. Perhaps most importantly, the benefit of free transportation would also serve as an incentive to remain in school until learners achieve their educational goals.

In addition to the DME report, gaps in access to transportation are also referenced in the DC WIOA State Plan. The State Plan notes that “many adult learners need additional support services, such as transportation [assistance] to fully access and complete education and training opportunities; but access to these services varies by programs and providers and gaps exist.” The Plan further notes that business stakeholders have cited inadequate access to transportation as a challenge in retaining District employees.[4]

The DME report recommends “expand[ing] the unlimited bus and rail component of the School Transit Subsidy program to all District residents enrolled in a publicly funded adult education program.”[5]  It found that it would cost $1.5 million to $2 million to serve the 7,494 students enrolled in community-based organizations (CBOs), UDC’s Workforce Development and Lifelong Learning programs (WDLL), and adult charter and alternative education schools who are not currently receiving assistance through Kids Ride Free. This expansion of the Mayor’s signature Kids Ride Free program would leverage the program’s existing technology infrastructure to create a low negotiated cost of ridership between DDOT and WMATA.

Removing the barrier of the cost of transportation will make it easier for adults to remain in school until they achieve their educational and employment goals and give them greater access to jobs from which they’ve been previously shut out. This modest investment stands to leverage the District’s current investment of over $80 million in local and federal dollars to support educational instruction for adult learners. The DME report notes that “the current investment in adult education could yield greater results with a reduction in transportation costs for adult learners.”

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify today. I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] Available at http://lims.dccouncil.us/Download/36809/RC21-0140-Introduction.pdf

[2] DC’s WIOA State Plan. Available at http://dcworks.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dcworks/publication/attachments/WIOA_DC_Unified_State_Plan_Final.pdf

[3] Lazere, E., and M. Guzman. 2015. “Left Behind: DC’s Economic Recovery Is Not Reaching All Residents.” DCFPI. Available at https://www.dcfpi.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/State-of-Working-DC.Final_1.pdf

[4] DC’s WIOA State Plan. Available at http://dcworks.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/dcworks/publication/attachments/WIOA_DC_Unified_State_Plan_Final.pdf

[5] The DME report notes that certain adult learners may have access to transportation subsidies through other programs, and provides descriptions of these various programs. However, the report goes on to conclude that due to “very narrow, specific eligibility requirements” there remains a very high unmet need in the city.