State of the District Address
It doesn't make sense. Not to our families. Not to our police. Not to me. Tonight, I am asking the police department to take full control over security at our public schools. I want our police officers to make sure doors are locked and guns never make it into our schools. I want them to get to know the children in the schools, to pick them up when they are truant, to understand what they are up against at home. Nothing could be more important than keeping our children safe at school. Surely we can find the resources to make that possible.
But if we want our officers to play a bigger role in their communities, we need to put more of them on the street. And that's what we're doing.
We're talking about reaching 3,800 officers by the end of September, as I promised. That's 200 more officers than we had a year ago and every single one will be in our neighborhoods. But I ask the Council to work with me to do even more. Let's civilianize more positions at MPD to put up to 300 more sworn officers on patrol over the next three years and 100 this year alone. Let's get the limited-duty officers who are abusing the system off our payrolls and replace them with 200 more officers on our streets.
If we do all of this, we can put hundreds more officers in our neighborhoods over the next three years. And, thanks to the work you've done redesigning our Patrol Service Areas, the neighborhoods with more crime, will get more officers.
Now, this might sound too obvious to state, but when our police officers catch someone committing a crime, they should be brought to justice. If they don't show up at court, we should find them and bring them back immediately. That's theoretically the U.S Marshal's job. But they aren't getting the job done.
Do you know that 8,000 people we've arrested -- including violent criminals charged with armed robbery, assault and worse -- are still at large on our streets? We can't wait any longer for someone else to pick them up. So I've given MPD new funding to start making good on these warrants. But the federal government must give the Marshals resources to make good on the rest.
Now, our children deserve good schools, not just safe schools.
And so if we want to reach the top of this mountain, we must guarantee a world-class education for all children, regardless of where they live or how much their parents make, regardless of the color of their skin or the school they attend.
I challenge you tonight to join me in starting an education renaissance in the District. We can bring together government leaders, community leaders and business leaders. We can transform Washington, D.C., into a City of Learning where teachers have the resources and ability to teach; students have the inspiration to learn; principals and administrators lead; parents and citizens engage; and the school system supports them all.
But we can't get there from here. We can't get to where we want to go from where we are right now.
Now, we've tried increasing funding by $220 million over the past five years -- a 57% increase. And I'm ready to support our schools and teachers with the resources they need, just as I always have. But funding alone isn't enough.
We've tried tinkering at the edges of the system. But the reforms have not been bold enough. The changes have not come fast enough. The status quo is not working. Families can wait no longer. And neither, frankly, can we.
We can't wait when the top reason parents leave a city is not crime or jobs; it's the schools. And, despite the success stories, our schools are still failing our kids. We can't wait when our spending is among the highest in the nation and our test scores are still among the lowest. And we can't wait when the only educational choices many families get are between bad and worse, between $20,000 in tuition for a private school and a mediocre education. We can't wait.
If we want to build a city of learning, we must give every parent real choices among good public schools, charter schools, and private schools and create a seamless system where no child falls between the cracks.
Recently, we secured $40 million in new federal funding for these three sectors of our school system-and I want to thank the President, Members of Congress, the Council's education committee chair, Kevin Chavous, and School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz for making it happen.
One third of this new funding will support our traditional public schools, many of which are already models.
We've seen what is possible in the faces of kids at Oyster Elementary School. Before the lottery started at Oyster this year, parents used to come from all over the city and camp out in front of this successful bilingual school. We're talking about committed parents sleeping outside in the dead of winter-all to get their children into a great school. It should be that way for every school.
It's simple. If your public school is succeeding, it should get more autonomy. If it's struggling, it should get more help. But, ladies and gentlemen, if it's failing for too long, it ought to close.
As I talked about a few minutes ago, we're working now to transform our lowest-performing schools and make public schools the center of our neighborhoods. But we must not stop until all public schools are providing quality education for all children.
We know what our communities need. I can't tell you how many people at Ballou the other night asked for more vocational and technical training in high school, and I'm committed to working with the Council to ensure they get it.
People tell me they want learning beyond the campus and K through 12 years-and I am committed to creating more literacy centers for adults, revitalizing our entire public library system, and, yes, supporting universal Pre-K for our children.
But even as we rebuild our traditional public schools, families must have more options. That's why another third of this new money will support our successful charter schools, which, in five years, have increased their enrollments from 3,500 students to more than 13,000.
I remember how impressed I was by the SEED school in Ward 7, which opened five years ago. All these kids have chosen to be there-because they know they can get a great education. They have uniforms. They have long hours. They have tough classes. And they have amazing teachers who have the freedom and resources to teach. The first seniors are graduating this year. And everyone is expected to get into college. Isn't that great? That's what we're looking for.
We have seen the same kinds of innovations at so many charter schools in our city because they have the flexibility to do what it takes for their students.
And because of that, we've also seen some long waiting lists. Working with Senator Mary Landrieu, we are going to dedicate $5 million to build new charter schools in neighborhoods where good options are now limited. It's called City Build-and it will bring five new charter schools to five emerging neighborhoods this year.
What we've found is that charter schools are particularly well-equipped to meet the diverse needs of our children -- from those who want to master a skill to those who have gotten in trouble with the law.
And I am committed to increasing their availability for children in special education so we can stop the costly movement of students across our borders.and offer their parents more confidence in their children's education right here in the District.
Now, understandably, a lot of people have focused on the third part of this new program-the part that gives low-income students scholarships to attend private schools. Not surprisingly, this is far more controversial among policy makers and pundits than it actually is among parents. And not surprisingly, sometimes the facts are the first to go.
Despite what some claim, our public schools will gain $13 million and not lose one dime because of this policy. If a child decides to leave a public school for a private school, that public school won't lose any money. None.
I've been asked a lot why I supported these scholarships. And it's because I wasn't going to tell 1700 low-income children that they don't deserve the same options privileged kids have always had in our school system. I wasn't going to tell them they had to return to a struggling school because we adults kept arguing.
© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive