D.C. Council schedules five hearings on education bills

Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post - David Catania, chairman of the D.C. Council's education committee, speaks with principal Tui Roper, left, and social worker Anita Lewis during a visit to Burrville Elementary School in 2012.

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Most D.C. schools will let out for summer break at the end of this week, but debate over the city’s education policies is just beginning.

D.C. Council Member David Catania, who has proposed wide-ranging legislation to overhaul city schools, has scheduled five hearings during the first two weeks of July.

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Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the council’s education committee, has also scheduled eight summertime “community conversations” to give residents a more informal opportunity to air their concerns about and ideas for D.C. schools.

Meanwhile, Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), who has not embraced Catania’s legislation, plans to give an address Thursday on his vision for the future of D.C. public education. Gray administration officials have argued that some of Catania’s proposals would replicate efforts already underway while others would not necessarily improve student achievement and may interfere with mayoral control of the schools.

Catania, a potential 2014 mayoral candidate who has been critical of Gray’s education record, said he is scheduled to meet with Gray on Thursday afternoon. It will be the pair’s first extended discussion about school issues since Catania took over the education committee chairmanship in January.

Here is the schedule for D.C. Council hearings on Catania’s legislation. All hearings begin at 9 a.m. Those wishing to testify can call Jamaal Jordan at 202-724-8061 or e-mail him at JJordan@dccouncil.us.

●July 2: Government witnesses, including Chancellor Kaya Henderson, will testify on Catania’s legislation. They will also testify on Gray’s proposal to give Henderson authority to approve new charter schools and a proposal from Council Member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) to retain third-graders who can’t read proficiently.

The public will have a chance to testify at four other hearings, each focusing on different issues:

●July 3: The subject of this hearing will be two of Catania’s bills, one calling for a unified lottery for charter and traditional schools and the other laying out a system for transferring surplus DCPS buildings to charter schools. Gray administration officials argue that these are two areas in which work is underway and don’t need to be legislated.

●July 8: Two more Catania bills are the focus of this hearing. One calls for establishing a new “student advocate” charged with running parent education centers that would offer help navigating traditional and charter schools. The other deals with governance, giving the state superintendent of education more independence by allowing her to be fired only for cause, and only with the vote of the State Board of Education.

●July 9: This hearing is likely to be long and heated. At issue are some of the most controversial proposals on the table:

Catania’s “school accountability” bill, under which DCPS schools would be closed or turned into charter-like “innovation schools” if they repeatedly fail to meet performance targets, and which gives principals the authority to decide who should be promoted to the next grade level and calls for students to be retained, in most cases, if they are not working on grade level; Gray’s bill to give the DCPS chancellor authority to charter new schools; and Orange’s bill calling for retention of students not reading proficiently at the end of third grade.

●July 11: This hearing will focus on Catania's funding bill, which would raise per-pupil funding for poor children, students enrolled in vocational programs and schools with low graduation rates. It would also send 80 percent of schools funding directly to principals to design their own budgets and programs.

The schedule for Catania’s community conversations is available on his Web site.

 
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