Reforming the Reform?


D.C. education continues to receive only a fraction of the focus, participation, and public voice necessary at the Council level to ensure student development and success. So, as asked by Council Member Michael Brown during the October 16th Council Hearing on DCPS, is it time to “Reform the reform”?

In 2007 the D.C. Council gave full oversight of DCPS issues to the Mayor and the mayoral appointed Chancellor. An education committee was eliminated and the Committee of the Whole took charge of D.C.’s most pressing issue, public education.

The intentions are understood, but the actual benefits are debatable. While the previous committee consisted of five Council Members, the Committee of the Whole is chaired by the Council Chairperson and consists of all 13 Council Members. The urgency and interest from the full Council appeared to be the first step toward a 13 person commitment for reform, but as seen during the recent Council Hearing on October 16th, only a handful of Council Members are really involved. A mere 5 Council Members were present any significant portion of time during the 18 hour hearing.

With questions about erasures, fluctuating attendance numbers, a teacher union contract in limbo, RIFs, and accountability, at no other time than the present is the need for a proper governing voice on DC education issues more apparent.

The Committee of the Whole manages over 13 issues ranging from the annual budget to relationships with local ANCs. With scheduled meetings only once per month, it is questionable how much time the Committee can allocate to public hearings on education issues.

Testimony by budget specialists and advocacy groups at the October 16th hearing identified lack of transparency in the budget.

Some Council Members suggested on Friday that Mayor Fenty’s administration, while touting accountability and transparency, is “anti-accountability and anti-transparency”. If true, the Council can only look in the mirror and take partial blame for maintaining a loose structure of oversight.

The existence of a Committee on Education would not only provide a dedicated staff monitoring oversight and accountability, but also allow District residents to know who is responsible for management of public education at the Council level. In a time with continued questioning of accountability, a designated committee providing public transparency and oversight should be a priority.

So Council Member Michael Brown, you’re right, it is time to “reform the reform”. The first step, though, should be to reform the Council. D.C. deserves a Committee on Education with a focused, dedicated, and participatory Council who listen to the public voice.


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