Heading into a budget season with a $500 million surplus, we call on the District’s leaders to build a budget that puts children and youth first.
We co-authored this opinion editorial published by the DC Line with our colleagues at the Children's Law Center, School Justice Project, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, PAVE, DC Alliance of Youth Advocates and Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative to urge Mayor Bowser to make three necessary investments for all of our children.
Advocates to mayor: Make investments that put DC’s children first
This week, residents across the District are gathering with Mayor Muriel Bowser and her administration for her three budget engagement forums. The first conversation took place Tuesday night in the newly renovated Edgewood Recreation Center — a valuable $18 million investment for Ward 5 families.
Just two weeks ago, Bowser made an important announcement: She is proposing a 4% increase on the District’s per student spend, in both traditional and charter public schools.
These are just two strong signs that the mayor and DC Council know how essential it is to invest in our city’s children and families. They are an even stronger indication that DC is doing extremely well financially.
But we are at a significant juncture. While DC is benefiting from a level of economic growth not seen in decades, we know that not all DC families are feeling the effects. How do we leverage this moment to create the DC we want for all our children?
We see three important priorities for the mayor’s budget to ensure that all DC children learn.
First, investments in our schools are essential. The mayor’s proposed increase would help every school have the staff and services it needs. From ensuring ample supplies to raising salaries that attract top talent, the additional per student funding is critically important. Yet even with this increase, school funding will be below the level recommended in the DC-commissioned “adequacy study” from seven years ago.
As a city that has always grappled with school inequities, we need solutions that don’t leave vulnerable students behind. Too many education outcomes are tied to race, ethnicity, ZIP code and family income — a legacy of our nation’s and our city’s history of racism, discrimination and segregation. It’s why we must double down on funding for students from low-income families and those who face other barriers to learning. We can build on the mayor’s proposal to boost the per pupil formula by committing an additional $72 million to meet what the adequacy study says is truly required to support our “at-risk” students, many of whom live east of the Anacostia River. This funding could provide at-risk students with additional resources outside of the school’s core staff such as reading specialists and counselors.
Second, we know many of our children experience high rates of trauma. Violence, poverty and homelessness are taking a toll on their developing minds. DC’s black and brown children also carry the weight of racism into classrooms and onto playgrounds, often facing the same obstacles as their parents and grandparents did. The need for mental health support is great.
The city’s expressed commitment to school-based mental health is exactly what’s needed to help kids who carry these burdens into the classroom. We’ve already taken great steps forward, expanding these services to more than 100 schools, so we know it’s possible. We need $16 million to reach 60 more schools, which is the District’s plan to scale responsibly based on available providers and resources. In addition, we must prioritize $10.6 million to provide social-emotional learning and trauma-informed training that will benefit students in every school.
Last, it’s time to make our youngest children a priority. This starts with high-quality, affordable child care for all families — starting with those struggling to make ends meet on the smallest incomes. We must also invest in the child care professionals who barely make above minimum wage yet care for our children during these formative years. An additional $41.5 million to implement policies that support children under age 3 will lead to better education outcomes and stronger, more stable careers for parents who won’t have to choose between keeping a job and the cost of child care.
The budget priorities suggested above total just over $140 million. Although significant, we have the means to make this investment. DC saw a nearly $500 million surplus last year. We hit our fiscal goal of a $1.43-billion rainy day fund. And we can make smart choices to add revenue by closing unnecessary tax loopholes like the DC Council did last year when it ended the ineffective Qualified High Technology Companies tax incentive. We have the resources we need to invest in the District’s children.
Creating change of this magnitude requires unwavering leadership. Together, and informed by the work we do with more than 70 organizations across numerous coalitions, we are calling on DC’s leaders to build a budget that puts children first — especially children who have too often been left behind in our city’s growth.
Claire Nilsen Blumenson is the executive director and co-founder of the School Justice Project; Eduardo R. Ferrer is the policy director of Georgetown Juvenile Justice Initiative; Ed Lazere is the executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute; Maya Martin Cadogan is the founder and executive director of PAVE (Parents Amplifying Voices in Education); Kimberly Perry is the executive director of DC Action for Children; Maggie Riden is the executive director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates; and Judith Sandalow is the executive director of Children’s Law Center.