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FY11 Budget Testimony: District of Columbia Public Schools

April 11, 2010

Children’s Law Center executive director Judith Sandalow testified regarding the proposed Fiscal Year 2011 budget for the District’s public schools, emphasizing that cuts outside the school budget – to homeless assistance, children’s mental health services and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) – will place an increased burden on the school system as more children affected by poverty struggle to learn.

A growing body of research shows that the extraordinary stress of childhood poverty and related issues such as homelessness, abuse and neglect, malnutrition and exposure to violence, harm children’s brain development and lead to cognitive impairment and health problems that impact their ability to learn. Sandalow testified that the proposed budget cuts would literally create the need for more special education services in the schools.

Homeless families are already being turned away by the city, left to sleep in a doorway or under a bridge or in an emergency room waiting area, Sandalow explained. And under the current budget proposal, homeless children overwhelmed by fear and stress will be unable to access the mental health services they need.

Sandalow urged Committee of the Whole Chairman Kwame Brown and members of the Council to explore other cuts – and take advantage of other sources of revenue – rather than approve measures that would so greatly devastate District children.

Watch the testimony here. (Judith Sandalow’s testimony begins at 10:55.)

We also submitted written testimony regarding the proposed FY11 DC Public Schools (DCPS) budget, specifically regarding increases in special education funding. The budget rightly increases funding for special education services so that more children can be adequately served in their neighborhood schools, but the Council must provide stringent oversight to ensure the money is used as intended.

Aspects of the DCPS budget are convoluted and involve the shifting of tens of millions of dollars from one line item to another. This necessitates the Council use its oversight powers to ensure the funds are properly spent.

Children’s Law Center supported a proposal to increase the per pupil allotment for children with disabilities and to provide large increases in funds for children with the most significant disabilities, who are most likely to be placed in private schools because DCPS cannot meet their needs. However, we cautioned that moving children out of their specialized private schools and back into neighborhood schools must not be done as a quick-fix, money-saving measure. The schools must first put adequate services in place.

The proposed budget will direct more than $30 million more to DCPS. We support the following improvements DCPS has said it will make with increased funding:

  • Increased investment in Early Stages–the center which evaluates young children for disabilities so they can be addressed early. 
  • Investments in early childhood special education servcies, so every student identified by Early Stages as needing specialized services receives them. 
  • Placement of at least a half-time social worker in every school.
  • Investment in services such as specialized reading programs that help struggling children succeed.
  • Experimentation with alternative models to help older students who have not succeeded in traditional schools.  

Read the written testimony here