In April, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed FY 2018 budget. Her overall budget increased city spending by 3.4%. However, when it comes to the most direct way city funding reaches our students in their classrooms — the “per student spending” — she only included a 1.5% increase. At less than inflation, this would mean cuts in our classrooms for our city’s 90,000 district and public charter school students.
As a teacher in D.C. for the past four years, I have compiled a long list of ways our students need more resources, not fewer. At the top of my list this year: culturally responsive teaching, restorative justice and increasing slots for after school programs. Many of our scholars struggle to connect with the curriculum because teachers haven’t been adequately trained on the cultural issues, and there is a lack of curriculum that addresses the diverse backgrounds of our students. Bright, energetic children are too often steered toward the criminal justice system rather than given time with trained counselors to adjust their behavior. Students who excel in class during the school day don’t have somewhere to go after school. Many of our kids lack a safe and engaging place to go after school and end up falling behind or getting into troubling situations with all of that idle time.
Jason is one of these students – and his story still haunts me. I watched Jason grow from a happy, rambunctious sixth grader into an angry, disenfranchised 15-year-old behind bars in the Alexandria Detention Center. I did not have the words to explain to him why teachers with a lack of culturally responsive and restorative justice training chose to discipline him out of school and into jail because they hadn’t been trained on any other approach. I did not have the words to explain to him that our city has not prioritized the supports that could make the difference in his life. My failure to save one student has become my motivation to ensure that his story does not become the norm for thousands of other students.
This February, I joined dozens of other teachers, parents, and students who are leaders with me in the DC Education Coalition for Change (DECC) in sharing stories like Jason’s at all three of Mayor Bowser’s community budget forums. At these events, we were encouraged to hear overwhelming public support for increasing the city’s investment in our students. The purpose of these events was to inform Mayor Bowser’s budget proposal, so we were all shocked to see that Mayor Bowser in fact proposed a functional cut to schools.
Just 3 months ago, the Office of the State Superintendent for Education issued a report recommending a 3.5% increase in the per-student spending to meet D.C. students’ basic needs. That’s about $30 million more than Mayor Bowser has proposed — just a drop in the bucket of the District’s $13.8 billion budget. Fortunately, there is still time for the City Council to ensure that kids get their fare share of our dcity’s 3.4% budget increase. The Council is holding budget hearings this week.
Frederick Douglass famously wrote, “Power concedes nothing without demand.” The loudest voices tend to get funded in the D.C. budget process, and too often the loudest voices aren’t speaking about the needs of our kids. I will be at the Council budget hearings with my DECC colleagues testifying for the full recommended 3.5% increase, as well as expanded afterschool programs, culturally responsive teaching, and restorative justice programs. I hope that all D.C. residents who care about educational equity will join me.
Jovanda Warren is a teacher at City Arts and Prep Charter School in Washington, D.C., and a member of the leadership team of DC Education Coalition for Change.