Kayla Higgs sat before the D.C. schools chancellor and told him she hopes to attend Princeton University after she graduates from Eastern High School in Northeast Washington.
If she isn’t accepted there, she said she would settle for Harvard or Duke.
But to achieve that, she asked the chancellor for some help.
“One of the things schools should focus on is to get working computers,” said Higgs, a sophomore. “A lot of times in my classes, computers are broken and laptops don’t have chargers. And it’s just very frustrating. Then, you have to share computers, and it’s just a mess.”
Chancellor Antwan Wilson convened an informal budget hearing Thursday morning to hear from about 40 students — two from each of the city’s public high schools — and asked how they believe the city should spend money on education. The school system still has months of public hearings and deliberations with the mayor and D.C. Council before the budget process finishes in March.
This year, D.C. Public Schools is operating with a budget of about $930 million. Charter schools, which account for more than 40 percent of the student population, receive the same funding per student.
The chancellor asked students at the hearing at D.C. Public Schools headquarters how the system could address their needs and how they would invest a hypothetical $1 million in schools.
Wilson said little during the 90-minute event, scribbling notes as students did most of the talking. He cautioned students that the school system would never have as much money as he would want, and so sought their feedback to help determine how the city should prioritize spending.
“We don’t get to decide how much money we get — let me just be clear on that,” Wilson said. “The city is going to give us money based on how much they believe can be given to education, but they also have to pay for all these other things.”
The teenagers said they would spend more money on foreign language classes, art electives and school counselors, and they made a loud and unified call for better technology and faster Internet service.
“If I were given a million dollars, I would have no problem updating technology at D.C. schools,” said Nathan Minor, a freshman at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. “And our Internet is so slow.”
“And stop blocking so many pages, please,” Minor pleaded, saying restrictive Internet access on campus prevents him from reaching websites he needs to complete assignments.
The chancellor said he was impressed but not surprised by the students’ testimony. Proposals exist, according to Wilson, to boost technology and arts offerings in schools.
“Everything that’s on our priorities, students spoke to them,” Wilson said in an interview after the hearing.
Students told the chancellor they had plans to become international journalists, computer engineers, artists and more. Kadeem Preston, a student at Anacostia High School, said he wants to be an actor, but the art electives at his school are lackluster.
“Art classes now, you come in, color this, and you get your grade,” Preston said. “Art classes should be paint what you feel, paint what you see, paint what you want to see, and become an artist.”
Wilson said he would relay the students’ recommendations to school and city leaders. Some students brought up personnel issues with teachers and principals, and he said he would follow up with schools on those, too.
And the chancellor promised he will make sure city leaders know it’s time to upgrade that sluggish Internet service.