SBOE #EdPolicy Research Roundup: June 2019

By: Alexander Jue, Policy Analyst

This month, the DC State Board of Education (SBOE) continues its effort to make education research and policy concepts accessible to all stakeholders in our communities. The June 2019 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) on how to support families with choosing a school and a second from the Office of the D.C. Auditor on the use of at-risk student funds in our public schools.

As we have done previously, SBOE will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

“Fulfilling the Promise of School Choice by Building More Effective Supports for Families” Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), June 2019

Summary: Today, across 47 states and the District of Columbia, families can enroll their children in a public school outside their neighborhood. In about 200 school districts across the country, at least one in ten students in the public school system attend charter schools. Navigating the school choice process can be complicated for families and providing support to them is essential to ensuring that public education systems are working for everyone. CRPE highlights the work of D.C. School Reform Now (DCSRN) and what the organization has done to help families in the District’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods find success with school choice and enroll in high-quality schools. CRPE highlights effective strategies and learnings for helping families navigate choice landscapes:

– A network of community-connected partners help advocates reach and maintain connections with parents. 

– Supporting families to navigate school choice takes patience and persistence but it’s worth the effort. 

– Flexible, one-on-one support can address the routine and unexpected barriers families confront in choosing a school. 

– Advocates can’t solve challenges stemming from too few desirable schools. 

– One-on-one support can improve equity, but sustaining and scaling such supports remains an unresolved question

DC Context: One of the offices within SBOE is the Office of the Student Advocate (OSA). OSA supports students, parents, and families by helping them navigate the public education system in the District. This work is done through parent education, one-on-one coaching, resource supports, and trainings, as well as supporting power families and communities already possess. The District’s public education landscape is diverse—nearly half of students attend public charter schools and many students attend out-of-boundary schools. This process is facilitated through the District’s MySchoolDC public school lottery system. SBOE works to ensure that all families have equitable access to the resources and tools needed to make informed decisions.

“D.C. Schools Shortchange At-Risk Students” Office of the District of Columbia Auditor (ODCA), June 25, 2019

Summary: ODCA conducted an audit as a follow-up to its 2017 study, Budgeting and Staffing at Eight DCPS Elementary Schools, which found schools sometimes used at-risk funds to provide core staffing. At-risk students in the District are defined as students who are homeless, in foster care, receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program funds, or are at least one year over-age for their grade in high school. Among ODCA’s key findings were: (1) that DCPS schools with high concentrations of at-risk students often received reduced base funding and (2) the District has spent more than $450 million in at-risk funds without a measurable and consistent strategy. ODCA provide six recommendations:

– DCPS should establish transparent base funding for each school tied to enrollment and grade level.

– DCPS should publish each school’s base funding and supplemental at-risk allocations so principals and LSATs can identify what is base funding and what is supplemental. 

– DCPS should establish internal controls for any adjustments to base funding, including policies and procedures for allocating at-risk funds. 

– The Council should amend D.C. Code to strengthen at-risk provisions on “supplement not supplant” and apply these provisions to all public schools in the District.

– The District should evaluate and continuously improve its at-risk funded programs, in partnership with the forthcoming Research Practice Partnership (RPP).

– The Council should require consistent reporting of at-risk spending across all public schools.

DC Context: SBOE has frequently advocated for more transparency around the at-risk student population and the ways in which data on at-risk students are reported out. In December 2017, the State Board passed SR17-14 calling on the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) to alter its definition of “economically disadvantaged” students and to use this new definition when reporting student subgroup test scores.

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