As Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser (D) prepares to take office next month, there are many questions about what changes the transition will bring to the city’s efforts to reform public schools.
One of the biggest unknowns is what will happen to the D.C. Council’s two-year-old Education Committee that has been chaired by council member David A. Catania (I - At large).
Catania built his bid for mayor around his record on school reform. Following his loss, he will be leaving the D.C. Council after 17 years, with the future of the chairmanship and the committee unclear.
A group of education advocates recently sent a letter to D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) urging him to maintain the stand-alone Committee on Education and appoint a chair “with the experience, enthusiasm, and energy to work on behalf of schools and communities in all four corners of our city.”
“It is important to maintain momentum of the progress made in the last two years with the Education Committee,” the letter said.
Mendelson could not immediately be reached for comment.
He tapped Catania to lead the committee in December 2012 to intensify the District’s school improvement efforts. For the six years before that, education issues were handled by the Committee of the Whole, comprised of all 13 members.
“I’m so excited, I can’t stand it,” Catania told my colleague Mike DeBonis in 2012 when he took on the assignment. “It is the last and greatest hurdle this city faces.”
He said he planned to have a “heavy focus on evidence and data and accountability.”
Cinque Culver, a Ward 7 father and schools advocate who supported Bowser for mayor, said having a separate education-focused committee has been very helpful. “The dialogue on education reform in D.C. was moved forward by leaps and bounds,” he said.
In the past, he said, working with the Committee of the Whole at times was like working with a “Committee of None.”
Unless the education issue had a “ high public profile” and had “captivated the city at the moment,” it was easy to get lost, he said.
Many advocates say the education committee is a critical outlet for addressing policy questions and providing oversight in a city where the mayor has direct control of the schools, and the State Board of Education plays a limited role.
The letter was signed by more than 20 individuals, including Culver, and education advocacy organizations, including the Community Foundation for the National Capitol Region, Children’s Law Center, and Advocates for Justice in Education.