By BEN YOUNG
Peter Rosenstein’s comments in the Washington Blade about Council member David Catania’s work as the chairman of the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education are misinformed at best, biased at worst. Recently, Rosenstein, an outspoken defender of the mayor, suggested that the committee’s fiscal year 2014 budget recommendation politicized the issue of education and infringed on the mayor’s supremacy on this issue. Previously, he took exception with the committee’s engagement of the education practice at Hogan Lovells LLP to assist with developing and drafting legislation, which he argued would bypass the input of other education stakeholders in the District. He is wrong on both counts.
When it comes to the Council’s role in public education, Rosenstein is entitled to his opinion, but he should acquaint himself with the District’s law governing this issue. Title I of the District of Columbia Public Education Reform Amendment Act of 2007 (“PERA”) did not, as Rosenstein states, place “control of education policy and approved funding in the hands of the mayor’s office and the chancellor.” Instead, the PERA reorganized the traditional public school system (“DCPS”) as a subordinate agency of the mayor similar to other executive agencies and set up a governing structure that also includes the Council, the State Board of Education, and the Office of the State Superintendent for Education. Importantly, Section 104 of PERA states explicitly, “[t]he Council may, following its review” of the mayor’s budget proposal, “modify the funding and other resource levels, including full-time equivalent allocations, allocated by the plan to individual schools…”
Council member Catania supports mayoral authority over curricula, operations, personnel and other executive functions, as specified in Section 103 of the law. In fact, he worked hard to help bring about this reform six years ago. The law, however, dictates that the Council plays a critical role in policy, oversight and appropriations. And thank goodness.
Without the committee’s intervention, the mayor’s budget proposal would have devastated the budgets of many of the District’s most important middle and high schools, including Eliot-Hine Middle School (a 17 percent cut), Hardy Middle School (a 13 percent cut), and Ballou High School (an 11 percent cut). In a city with an accumulated reserve of $1.5 billion and a proposed budget that grows by approximately $700 million (7 percent), the Council has a right to – and should – question how such cuts will improve the achievement of students attending these schools. In addition to stabilizing these school budgets, the committee restored funding for school librarians, increased funding for summer learning programs and invested in the previously unfunded education ombudsman as a resource for parents struggling to navigate the maze of public education in the District.
Both the committee’s budget recommendations and its legislative work with Hogan Lovells are rooted in Council member Catania’s tireless efforts to solicit the feedback of parents, educators and other stakeholders involved with public education in the District. In fact, far from bypassing these individuals, Catania has toured the District seeking feedback from front line educators and parents. Already, he has spent countless hours speaking with the principals and teachers at more than 50 public schools and counting. This spring, he will spend 20 evenings engaging the parents of public school students at PTA meetings in the District.
On its current trajectory, it will take the District approximately 30 years to reach its stated 75 percent goals for proficiency in math and reading. This ought to be unacceptable to everyone. The only way to get there sooner is to approach the issue with thoughtfulness and urgency. These are the qualities that Council member Catania brings to the effort to improve public education in the District.
Ben Young is chief of staff for D.C. Council member David Catania.