Testimony of Soumya Bhat, Education Finance and Policy Analyst, At the Fiscal Year 2013 Performance Oversight Hearing On the District of Columbia Public Schools

Chairman Catania and members of the Committee on Education, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Soumya Bhat, and I am the Education Finance and Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with a particular emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.  

I am here today to offer input on the performance of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system with specific suggestions on what services could be expanded to increase opportunities for our most vulnerable students. DCPS has several ambitious education goals, and recent legislation and a mayoral-commissioned adequacy study create the potential for new resources to be added for at-risk students through the school funding formula as soon as next school year. DCFPI urges the District to take these opportunities to convey a clear and consistent approach to student programming, both inside and outside of the classroom. This means including non-instructional programs and services in a consistent city-wide school strategy. DCFPI makes the following recommendations: 

  • Improve access to quality out-of-school time programs and explore strategies to streamline DCPS’ Out-of-School Time Program (OSTP) enrollment process
  • Adopt a comprehensive parent engagement strategy including home visiting services
  • Ensure all students have access to school-based mental health practitioners  

Improve Access to Quality Out-Of-School Time Programs

There has been a lot of discussion by the Council and the Chancellor on how best to build up DCPS’ middle schools, with extending the school day or year mentioned as a possible strategy. However, it’s important to note that extending the school day can mean different things to different people. Extended day could just mean more of the same programming offered during school hours, without additional consideration of how best to implement a high-quality program with those additional hours. 

DCFPI encourages the District to embrace a range of expanded learning opportunities like those programs currently offered through partnerships with community-based organizations at several DCPS schools. These programs can offer students exposure to activities such as mentoring, college preparation, arts enrichment, or sports. Close coordination with the school allows service providers to mirror and complement the school-day curriculum and to offer targeted support to students identified as needing extra help. 

Research indicates that program quality and implementation are key to attracting participation and ultimately generating positive effects for students. DCFPI recommends that any strategy to extend the school day or year in the District include a blend of hands-on and enrichment learning that goes beyond and builds off of what students learn during the school day.

To read the complete testimony, click here.