PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOL CHOICES IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
SUBCOMMITTEE ON EARLY CHILDHOOD,
YOUTH AND FAMILIES
COMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED FIFTH CONGRESS
HEARING HELD IN WASHINGTON, DC, MARCH 12, 1998
Serial No. 105-80
Printed for the use of the Committee on Education
and the Workforce
TABLE OF CONTENTS
STATEMENT OF VIRGINIA WALDEN, PARENT *
STATEMENT OF BERNICE GATES, PARENT *
STATEMENT OF SHEILA CARSON-CARR, PARENT *
STATEMENT OF BRIAN BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF SCHOOL OPERATIONS, SCHOOL FUTURES RESEARCH FOUNDATION *
STATEMENT OF ARLENE ACKERMAN, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS *
STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE CALLAHAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, WASHINGTON, DC *
APPENDIX A – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF VIRGINIA WALDEN, PARENT *
APPENDIX B – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF SHEILA CARSON-CARR, PARENT *
APPENDIX C – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF BRIAN BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF SCHOOL OPERATIONS, SCHOOL FUTURES RESEARCH FOUNDATION *
APPENDIX D – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF ARLENE ACKERMAN, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS *
APPENDIX E – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE CALLAHAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, WASHINGTON, DC *
APPENDIX F – ARTICLES SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD BY MS. NORTON *
TABLE OF INDEXES *
PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SCHOOL CHOICE IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Thursday, March 12, 1998
House of Representatives
Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families
Committee on Education and the Workforce,
The Subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 10:05 A.M., in Room 2175, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Frank Riggs [Chairman of the Subcommittee] presiding.
Committee Members present: Representatives Riggs, Souder, Martinez, Kildee, Owens, Payne, Roemer, Scott, and Kucinich.
Also present: Representatives Armey, Tom Davis, and Norton.
Staff Present: Vic Klatt, Education Policy Coordinator; Sally Lovejoy, Senior Education Policy Advisor; Jo-Marie St. Martin, General Counsel; Kent Talbert, Professional Staff; Richard Stombres, Legislative Assistant; June L. Harris, Minority Education Coordinator; Alex Nock, Minority Legislative Associate; and Margo Huber, Minority Staff Assistant.
Chairman Riggs. [Presiding] Good morning. I'd like to call to order the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families, and convene our hearing on Public and Private School Choice in the District of Columbia, and we're delighted and honored that the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, Congressman Dick Armey, could join us this morning, and I now recognize him for an opening statement.
Mr. Armey. Mr. Chairman let me first express my appreciation to you and the committee for holding these hearings. Let me just say, as you know, this issue is an issue of my heart. My interest in this is, first and foremost, for the young people–the children. I've seen the joy in their hearts when they have found these opportunities made available through private funding sources, and I would like to see more children with that happiness in their hearts. But also, I'd like to say very briefly, I am convinced that you cannot have the kind of education excellence in America that we must be able to achieve without building it around a base–and a very successful base–of public education. And I believe school choice represents an opportunity for public education to experience the competitive pressures that will drive–as one of the drivers–drive them towards the kind of excellence they should achieve and they are capable of achieving in America.
So, on behalf of the children first, but on behalf of my commitment to the best education for all the children of America through an integrated school system of public and private education with the public schools representing the level of excellence they ought to be able to achieve, I want to express my appreciation for what you're doing, and I am looking forward to being able to stay as long as I can to hear the testimony.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Mr. Leader. I now recognize the Ranking Member of the Subcommittee, Congressman Martinez.
Mr. Martinez. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, usually, if you'll recollect, when I begin my statements at the hearings that are conducted by our Subcommittee, I express my pleasure that we are addressing the issues which are the topic of that hearing. Unfortunately, today I'm not certain I can say that. This topic, which we as members are deeply divided over, and myself, for my own paying what it's worth, is I'm strongly disappointed that we're having yet another hearing on vouchers and private schools.
You know with the defeat last session of the Republican-sponsored help scholarship bill, I thought that probably a lesson had been learned and that we would move on in dealing with the difficulties–the real difficulties–of our educational system in a substantive way.
Obviously, in an election year, individuals have to make a solemn statement on their convictions. I realize that. Regardless, it seems that we will keep coming back to this issue now and long into the future and my Democrat colleagues on this Subcommittee still need to educate our friends on the other side about the policies of vouchers across the country, and especially here in DC
What are we actually doing here today? We are examining whether vouchers, which won't get close to providing education funds to pay for private school education, will improve academic results in the District of Columbia. The Majority Leader just said we want to improve education for all children and I totally agree with that, totally. But, I don't believe that this is the way to do it. This, for some reason, and one that I don't understand, some of us from various areas of the country, believe we know what's better for the District of Columbia, better, than this sole elective representative, Ms. Norton.
For a party, which prides itself in local control and flexibility, and we keep hearing that over and over again, I am really dismayed that we continue to go through this political exercise about debating vouchers for a town in which only a few, not the majority, want them. Vouchers will do nothing, and I repeat, do nothing to help the vast majority of children in the District of Columbia. And here, I say again, they will only help a few.
The legislation, which I believe will soon be scheduled for the floor by Speaker Gingrich, will authorize the so-called scholarship to approximately 2 or 3 percent of the children in the District of Columbia. That's not real reform. That's reform for 2 or 3 percent. And that, like I say, will just take care of a selective few.
You know, it seems like we are again playing politics with the public school system in DC If Republicans–and I really believe that there are many that sincerely do want to help the schools and the children which they attend, then let's invest in all children's education. Let's find a way to reform it for every child. Let's invest in this city and make it an example of what the Nation's capital should look like. Today's hearing will allow us to get input from several District parents and others involved in education in our capital city.
I especially want to thank Ms. Sheila Carr for taking the time out of her busy workweek and her family life to be with us here today–
Ms. Carson-Carr. Thank you.
Mr. Martinez. –and the other parents on the panel. We will hear input from the District of Columbia public schools about the recent reform plan, which is championed by Ms. Arlene Ackerman, Chief of Academic Instructions; we are fortunate to have her here with us today. I am much interested in hearing this homegrown, non-Congressionally mandated academic reform plan.
Unfortunately, despite the strong voices of Mrs. Carr and Mr. Robinson, this hearing is, in my humble opinion, not evenly balanced. While the majority will often tilt, even when we were in the majority we did it too, the hearing’s panel in its favor; I am especially troubled that this tactic has been used here today in this case. This discussion should be a fair and non-partisan debate of vouchers in the District of Columbia. Instead, it is going to come down a political exercise.
Regrettably, Mr. Chairman, I stand on the other side of the issue from you, which I hope will not prevent us from our work on other matters, which we can agree on, that come before the Subcommittee. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you.
Gentlemen, again I want to welcome the ladies and gentlemen in attendance. I want to alert my colleagues–I see that Ms. Norton has now joined us–so I want to alert my colleagues that Tom Davis, the chairman of the Subcommittee on the District of Columbia, and the Representative for the District of Columbia, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who joins us today. We're delighted to have them join us. I also want to make some brief opening remarks and first stipulate for the record that I consider Marty Martinez a good friend, and a colleague with whom I have very much enjoyed my working relationship, and its been a professional and personal relationship. I do want to point out to him that our hearing today is on public and private school choice in the District of Columbia, and that when we brought the HELPS scholarships legislation to the floor last year, we were able–and I think a historic vote in the House of Representatives–to get 191 members of the House of Representatives to vote in favor of that legislation. However, only four of those yes votes were from courageous democratic members of the House of Representatives.
Access to a high quality education is the cornerstone of equal opportunity in American society. If you want to talk about affirmative action, you have to begin the debate, in my view, by talking about access to equal educational opportunity for all children, especially those that come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Everybody on this committee certainly knows I am a strong supporter of public and private school choice. I believe in giving parents the full range of choice among all competing alternatives and that includes public, private, and parochial schools, so that they can select the education and schooling that they deem most appropriate and beneficial for their child.
Providing a wide range of alternatives to families will, in my view, help improve the quality of education in this country, including and beginning, here in Washington, DC, our Nation's capital.
Over the past two to three years, we have read and heard–in fact we've got countless hearings in the Congress–about the problems in the DC Public School System. We've heard that the system is top heavy with administrators. That schools have been late in opening, and that, of course, occurred at the beginning of this current school year. Fire code violations have gone unrepaired despite a very high per person expenditure, somewhere in the neighborhood of $9,000 per person, one of the highest per person expenditure rates in the country. NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, test scores have been among the worst in the entire country. In fact, the District of Columbia public schools enjoys the dubious distinction of having one of the highest drop out rates, and lowest test scores of any large school district in the country.
Now, we also know that we already have taxpayer-funded choice in preschool, childcare, or early childhood education, and in higher education.
In the preschool years, families may utilize government-funded, taxpayer-funded childcare at public or private childcare facilities. In the post-high school years, students may take their taxpayer-funded Pell grants or student loans to the public or private college of their choice. Why not extend that same freedom to K-12 schools? The answer is there is no good reason to deny parents that same freedom. Alveda King, the niece of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, and a lady who has testified before this Subcommittee, perhaps, said it best when she said, "when you give parents a choice, you give children a chance."
Initial studies of taxpayer-funded choice programs in Milwaukee and Cleveland–and I want to stipulate for the record, I have visited both cities to look first hand at their choice programs–the initial review of these programs indicate that parents participating in those programs, sending their children to choice schools in Milwaukee and Cleveland, are very satisfied with the education that their children are receiving. And secondly, the initial studies indicate that there is a correlation between parental satisfaction and an improvement in pupil performance, and that, colleagues, is the bottom line here. No American child should have to continue to go to a school that does not provide a quality education. Yet that is exactly what happens in too many states and communities in the country today.
I have said, and I know that the Majority Leader agrees with me on this, that the price of failure in education today shouldn't be more funding, more of everything, it should be that that school closes. That should be the consequence, the price, of a school failing to educate its young people.
Now, let me just also briefly address the whole home rule issue and we want to hear from Congresswoman Norton more on this subject. But it's my view that the Congress–and we wouldn't be here today if the Majority Leader didn't agree–that we have a particular duty and responsibility to the children of our nation's capital. Just as citizens of the city deserve a say in how they are governed, parents deserve a choice in how their children are educated. So, let's give families in the District of Columbia some hope like the 7,000 plus families that have applied for the 1,000 scholarships funded by two remarkably philanthropic and charitable men, Ted Forceman and John Walton. You know, there's a saying in private industry on Wall Street that investors are often considered to be angels because they invest their own money, their own capital in start up businesses, and they help those start up businesses to grow and, hopefully, prosper and succeed.
Well, people like Mr. Forceman and Mr. Walton are also angels in the area of education because they're taking their own money and they're funding scholarships here, in the District of Columbia, and in thirty some other communities around the country, for low income families–to give those families more opportunity and more choice in where their children go to school, and I think we do well to recognize them for what they're doing.
I also want to note for the record that this is just a little article that I clipped out of USA Today at the beginning of this week indicating that, when asked about government-paid vouchers, taxpayer-funded scholarships for families, 72 percent of Black Americans support that idea. Sixty-three percent of Hispanic Americans support the idea of scholarships or vouchers. That's why you have many people in this country, people like Paulie Williams in Wisconsin, and Fanny Lewis, in Cleveland, and for that matter Ms. King, who described parental choice in education as a civil right movement of the 1990.
I also want to stipulate that this committee is holding hearings in different communities around the country examining why we have so many unfilled, good paying jobs in our economy. These are jobs that involve the use of technology in a knowledge-based economy. The latest estimate is that there are some 350,000 to 400,000 unfilled jobs in our economy–information technology jobs that are high wage, high skilled. Many of those jobs are in the immediate vicinity of where we meet–of our Nation's capital–just across the Potomac River in northern Virginia, but also just a few miles up the road in suburban Maryland, and yet, we have young people being educated today in the District of Columbia who will not be able to take advantage of those jobs, who will not be able to participate in the economy of today and tomorrow.
And for those young people who are the future have-nots, the have-nots of tomorrow, I submit to you ladies and gentlemen, it is a personal tragedy for our country. It's a major challenge, but for those young people, it's a personal tragedy because they cannot get the education and training that they need to take advantage of these jobs, which are 15 or 30 miles away from where they live. And they are just a good, quality K-12 education away from being able to take advantage of these particular jobs.
So, as Ghandi said, "We must become the change we wish to see in the world." So I submit to you, we must become the change we wish to see in Washington, DC
With that I'll recognize any other members that would like to make opening statements. Ms. Norton.
Ms. Norton. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to especially thank Chairman Frank Riggs, and Ranking Member Matt Martinez for their generosity in accommodating my participation in this hearing and for considering that the subject matter involved relates exclusively to the district I represent.
I want to welcome and thank all of the witnesses in today's hearing, especially the DC parents and officials, and the representatives from our private schools.
I want to go beyond my own well known opposition to vouchers to focus on the District's desperate need for money for schools this year. For us to exchange the usual positions on vouchers is to play games with the people I represent. May I ask this morning that we get beyond our yearly stale voucher politics, because false hopes have already been raised among some of my parents desperate for a better education for their kids that we know will not be forthcoming from this particular bill. What am I to say to District parents whose hopes have been raised, but have not been told that if a voucher bill passes this Congress, it will be vetoed? What will the youngsters think when they learn that, even absent a veto, a court injunction on first amendment grounds would be the certain fate of this particular bill? There is still time for this Subcommittee to make good on the mantras about helping our DC kids and DC schools to improve.
The claim to want to help our youngsters can be validated only by taking action sure to bring help this year. Do we want to help? Here's how to help. The District is about to end social promotion, for years one of the great demands of the Congress, and justifiably so. The District does not have the money to do the required remediation that would make social promotion disappear with no adverse affect on the children left behind. If the Congress wants to do something for the children of the District, it will find the money to fund this year's summer school for the estimated 20,000 students, who will be required to attend summer school this year. Does Congress want to help? Then help. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Norton.
We turn now to our first panel of witnesses. We actually have two panels of witnesses today to share with us their views on public and private school choice and our first panel consists of three District of Columbia parents who've waited very patiently through the opening statements and the second panel consists of public, private, and charter school advocates. I'd now like to introduce Ms. Virginia Walden. She is the mother of three children who have attended the District of Columbia public schools. Most recently, she was able to enroll one of her sons, who has numerous learning problems in public school in a private high school. The private school opportunity came about as a result of the generosity of Ms. Walden's neighbors, I understand, who helped pay the tuition cost of the private school. Ms. Walden, thank you for being here and please proceed with your testimony.
STATEMENT OF VIRGINIA WALDEN, PARENT
Ms. Walden. Mr. Chairman, members of the Subcommittee, Ms. Norton. It's an honor to appear before you to talk about school choice in the District from a parent's perspective.
Fifteen years ago, I was a struggling young mother, raising three children alone in southeast, DC I had no family here and had only myself to depend on to make choices for my children. One of my sons–my oldest son–displayed, at very early age, a real joy in learning, but was having a real difficult time in school. Many times not wanting to attend at all. This bothered me, and after many conversations with him, it was revealed that, not only was he bored and frustrated in overcrowded classes, with overworked teachers, but was often teased by other children for just wanting to learn. He was unhappy at this school and, of course, looked to me to provide a solution and I couldn't help him. I knew in my heart that this was a child whose needs were not being met by DC Public Schools, but I found myself with no affordable alternative. He had to go to the school and I had to make it okay for him.
After years of working in schools that my children attended and trying to be a parent who made a difference, I felt hopeless and helpless. I remember that feeling so clearly and, of course, it has been repeated to a certain extent with my other children. I also have heard it voiced many times from other mothers who have had nowhere to turn.
Finally, we are finding out that we do have alternatives. With the onset of the school choice movement, parents have found new opportunities opening up for them as they make decisions about their children's educational future.
Information is circulating in our communities, and excitement about our children's educational possibilities is at an all time high. We are beginning to see the benefit of change and choice.
My youngest son is the beneficiary of these changes. For years I have watched him become totally disinterested in school and, as a result, he had become very disruptive. I spent countless hours at his school trying to convince teachers and administrators that he was really very bright and begging them not to suspend him again. The older he got, the more horrible the situation became. He talked about dropping out of school, and, in one six-month period, ran away from home six times and was brought home by the police. He was 14 years old, six feet tall, and I was having an increasingly difficult time controlling him by myself.
I discussed this with a neighbor, who at various times had helped me with my son. He mentioned that private school might be the answer for William, with smaller classes and a different kind of environment. Again, I couldn't even consider private school. I just could not afford it and it was very discouraging.
Two weeks later, the same neighbor returned with a commitment from several men who had grown up in our community to pay my son's tuition as their way of giving back to the community. William entered a private school in September 1997. The changes in him have been extraordinary. He is, for the first time in his educational experience, enjoying school and succeeding academically and socially. For us, the transition from public to private school has been exciting and challenging.
I can't and won't say it enough–I will continue to say it–giving parents alternatives for their children's education is critical. We know our kids and we know what'll work best for them. If parents receive some financial assistance for their children to attend private school through voucher programs, and if public charter schools are adequately supported, parents will have choices that can assure that their children will be armed with the best possible education. Thank you.
SEE APPENDIX A – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF VIRGINIA WALDEN, PARENT
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Walden.
I now introduce Ms. Bernice Gates. She is also a District of Columbia parent and has three children receiving privately funded scholarships to attend private schools in the District. Ms. Gates, thank you for being here and please proceed with your comments.
STATEMENT OF BERNICE GATES, PARENT
Ms. Gates. Thank you, and good morning Subcommittee, Mr. Chairman, and, of course, Congresswoman Norton.
Chairman Riggs. Ms. Gates, could you just pull the microphone just a little bit closer to you there?
Ms. Gates. I sure can.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you.
Ms. Gates. It is indeed my pleasure and an honor to be here. I am here this morning on the behalf of the parents and children, who are, with great hope and expectations, looking for help with other alternatives to choose from other than a public school arena to educate our children.
We are fed up with the lack of supplies, discipline, motivation, responsibility, and accountability; the violence, the pretense, the falsehood of public education, and we are determined to do everything we can to do something about it. I've come before you all this morning to share our views.
I am a single mother of six children. I am currently a senior at the University of the District of Columbia waiting to receive my bachelor's degree in social work in May. I am a child specialist at the Department of Human Resources Rescue Center. There I complete the processing of children awaiting placement in foster homes, for homes, or the return to their families. I respond to children in crises. I coordinate game activities, monitor, supervise family visitation. I read stories, do arts and crafts, instruct physical activities and academic exercises. I implement risk and safety management. I counsel on violence prevention, anger management, and other duties as well. After saying all of that, you can tell that I do have a love and a concern and an obligation to, not just my children, but all children.
Out of six children, I was blessed to send one of my children to a private school. This is where my first point is addressed. Derrick Gates, my nine year old son who is in the fourth grade now at Calvary Christian Academy, received a partial scholarship from the founder of his school by Dr. Alfred Owens, who is also our pastor at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church.
When Derrick entered at kindergarten level, back in 1993, he had already completed two years previously in public schools–daycare and pre-K–at Walker Jones Elementary School in northwest, DC, where his older brother, Silky, had also attended.
Derrick, prior to that, was taught the basics for his age at home by me. While there at Walker Jones, they reported that he was slow for his grade level amongst his peers. After that report, Derrick was snatched out of public schools and gladly placed into private school with the help of a scholarship from his new school, Calvary Christian Academy. Leaving his brother, Silky, behind because, you see, we were only fortunate enough, at that time, to receive only one scholarship. My income was extremely low, but we weren't. We had high faith that God would one day answer our prayers for other scholarships so that the entire family would be blessed like Derrick was. For you see, we all admired Derrick's performance and treatment at Calvary Christian Academy.
Meanwhile, as Derrick developed and advanced at a great speed, my other children that were not in private school, such a Calvary Christian Academy, were not doing as well, but with a twist. For you see, on paper they were making A’s and B’s and C’s on their report cards, but in all reality, they were below average academically.
Me being busy in school myself, I was just happy to see my children making the grades. I was blind to the fact that their performance was not measuring up. What was right before me I could not figure out nor pinpoint to see what was going on. My children were making good grades because of their mannerisms–they were not the disruptive ones, they did what was required for them to do without the support and motivation, or the enthusiasm of their schools, unfortunately.
I was tired of the teachers, the principals, and the staff not doing this and not doing that. So, I joined the team as a volunteer for about 18 years. If you can't beat them, become one of them and make a change by putting in your time, your talent, your gift, and even your money, whatever it takes, could make a difference. I tutored, I mentored, I counseled, I substituted for teachers, I laughed, I cried, I screamed, I yelled, and I even hit a few students.
I worked at Ruth K. Webb Elementary, Walker Jones, Bauchus Middle School, McKinley High, and Dunbar Senior High to help my children, as well as other children, to learn to the best of my ability.
All of my children attended at least one or two of these public institutions. This is not a bash against public schools nor a pep rally against them. Just plain and simple, this is a plea of cry for help. Help would stand for everyone. Please allow them to learn.
Financially, we were blessed by the Washington Scholarship Fund. The Washington Scholarship Fund–one of the teachers at Derrick's school, at Calvary Christian Academy, had given us an application to submit back in 1993, and I did just that. I filled out the application and I sent the application in. For three years, I called the Washington Scholarship Fund every day, every week, every month, until we were on first name basis. They knew my voice, I knew theirs. I continued to call them for three years. One particular day they beat me to the call, telling me that we had been accepted into their program. I jumped for about 20 minutes. I was so exhausted when I got back to the telephone, I forgot who I was talking to, but I did not forget that they had committed to give me scholarships.
The Washington Scholarship Fund had been an answer to numerous prayers that were prayed by the Gates family since 1994. Now, for the first time, not only was Derrick eligible to receive a decent education, but so were two others–two of my other children–Silky, who is 13, and William, who is 6 years old. With those scholarships, Silky now attends Holy Redeemer Catholic School, and William also attends Calvary Christian Academy, as well.
Remember, I said I had six children. My other three children were too old for the program. My older children had gotten so frustrated with public schools, whenever they went to school there was always confusion, there was violence. Before Silky and William were taken out of public school, my children had to contend with shootings; they had to be taken to school, picked up from school just for protection alone. Half of the school week was spent in counseling, because someone was shot or someone was stabbed, and they did not have the opportunity to learn.
I thank God for sending Douglas Dewey into my life, as well as John Forceman. These are two people who are not just talking the talk, but they are walking the walk by putting their money where their mouth is; by putting their talent to action.
Silky, Derrick, and William were making A’s. They were making B’s, and I thought that my children were learning. My children were tremendously below level, and I did not know this until they started taking a series of tests in private schools. When Silky went to enter into Holy Redeemer, he failed tremendously, tremendously. It was an insult, it was embarrassing, and I was just totally speechless, and so was he; but, thanks be to God, the school allowed him to enter, considering the fact that he had been in public school all of his life, and that he was making a transfer.
The same for William, when he entered into Calvary Christian Academy, he failed miserably, miserably. Silky's first report card, he got all F's. That's devastating for a child who has made honor roll all of his days in school. William made all U's. That's devastating for this 6-year-old who thinks he's 60 years old in mind.
I thank God for the support–excuse me–that I have received at Calvary Christian Academy, Holy Redeemer. This is the support team I have looked for, worked hard for, in public schools. It was not there. I am publicly there, personally there. I make myself available in public school. Even still now, it's just not there. If public school is not working, please give us the opportunity to choose the schools. Give us the opportunity by helping us financially.
The Washington Scholarship Fund only pays partial funding for my children's education. The other part, I pay. I pay by catering, I pay by consulting, I pay by volunteering my time any way that I can. So, it's not that we're looking for a handout. We're looking for a hand up. One that will help us to rear our children properly so they can be competitive, so they will not be at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to education. We build tall buildings, we build government. Why not build people? Why not develop people? There is no such thing as a dumb child. But there is a such thing as a neglected child. And I feel as though all the children that are in public school are being neglected. We are so busy pointing the finger, blaming this person, and blaming that person. That's not getting it. Children are not learning that way. They truly are not. They are learning to see how we can bicker among one another and not get anything done.
Private schools are working. I cannot speak for any private schools other than Calvary Christian Academy and the Washington Scholarship Fund. Nobody is paying me to be here. I am here because I need to be here to testify of the goodness of what these people are doing–the difference that they have made.
Silky has not made A’s since he's been in Holy Redeemer, but he's come from making F's to making B's, now he's making C’s, and we're hopeful that there are going to be some Bs on his next report.
William had made four A’s his last report card after making all U’s. He is the top of his class and it wasn't because he didn't already have it in him. They just weren't pulling it out of him. The public schools were very discouraging. They did not motivate. Again, this is not a public school bashing. I am a product of public schools. I am applauding every teacher that has ever taught me, every teacher that has taken the time to deposit into my life, but let's face it people, folks are more concerned with the do's and the don'ts of the school board, than we are with our children learning.
I pray that you all have been touched by what I've said thus far, with what Ms. Walden has said thus far so that you'll reach in your pockets today and send forth a contribution to the Washington fund. Thank you.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Gates, and I would wish and hope that every Member of Congress could hear your testimony before we consider the Majority Leader's legislation, H.R. 1797, which would make it possible for more families to participate or to receive scholarship assistance for their children. It would use taxpayer funding to build upon the good work of the Washington Scholarship Fund, and again, we thank you for being here and look forward to the opportunity to have some give and take when we get to the question and answer period.
We now turn to our third, and final, witness of the first panel. I apologize–I set that aside for just a moment–Ms. Sheila Carson-Carr. She is a District of Columbia resident, and the mother of two children in the District of Columbia public schools. Ms. Carson-Carr, thank you for being here, and please proceed with your testimony.
STATEMENT OF SHEILA CARSON-CARR, PARENT
Ms. Carson-Carr. Thank you. Good morning, my name is Sheila Carson-Carr, and my husband and I are the proud parents of three proud–wonderful daughters. One is a graduate of DC public schools and the other two are tenth graders who are presently attending DC public schools.
I am here representing the District of Columbia and the parents of Americans that have voted against vouchers and for investment of our public school education system.
The students of the District deserve the best education possible. This is not to ignore or to minimize the problems that exist. The solution in making DC public schools better is to find solutions to fix the problems, not abandon them by diverting precious tax dollars to Maryland and Virginia in the form of vouchers for private and religious schools.
Vouchers are not a sound solution for the problem faced by the District public school system. Vouchers fail to provide incentives for strengthening public schools and neglect the real need of public school students.
S.1502, the District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act of 1997 would provide approximately 2,000 vouchers. But there are nearly 78,000 children in DC public schools. What would happen to these students left behind? What effect are we going to take to improve–what effort are we going to take to improve their educational opportunities. Education reform can only succeed if all students benefit. Remember we are as strong as our weakest link. The challenges confronting some public schools are varied and complex, commanding an even greater commitment on the part of parents, community leaders, and elected officials. If our society does not adequately support the public school system, how can we afford to support two systems, both public and private? One will surely fail. Which one will it be?
The money expended to create, sustain, and expand voucher programs should be directed at improving public schools and increasing academics in those schools. A good question to ask yourself is: How much money was used today on this hearing? What was the cost of staff time, materials, and other items? Couldn't the funds for this hearing be used for a hearing on improving public education as a whole thereby truly responding to the need of all DC students?
The commitment to reform in the District has to be a long-term investment, not a short-term venture led by a hearing like this one. What message are we sending young people, our future, when we dismiss troubled public schools as so lacking in value that the only alternative is to help a few students escape to private institutions? Are we willing to sacrifice the education of the majority of our students for the few who are selected by private schools? Where are your priorities?
Another problem with the concept of vouchers is the competition between public and private schools. These schools operate under different circumstances. The public schools adhere to policies related to standards, curriculum, teacher certification, and most importantly, nondiscrimination. Private schools are exempt from these requirements. Public schools must take all, let me repeat, all students, while private schools select whom they will educate and admit.
Furthermore, public schools that cannot adequately serve students with their current budget will not be able to compete any better with fewer resources.
Voucher programs are not about parental choice, but about private school choice. Private schools are selective and have admissions criteria that students must meet. Parents only get to apply to them. The school chooses who will be admitted. The term "choice" is a deceptive word, which in actuality means rejection. This is hard for anyone, especially children, to deal with.
Willis D. Harley, Dean of the College of Education at the University of Maryland, suggests that vouchers would divide us in more ways than we might care to imagine. The widespread use of vouchers for private school tuition will increase the cost of education for taxpayers and undermine support for public schools and further separate children by class, race, and belief, Harley said.
A recent article in the Washington Post reported, "The majority of applicants will likely be turned away though the school will rake in plenty from the nonrefundable application fees, some ranging as high as $50." Remember, this is money from the poor who do not have money to waste. Aren't we creating a false hope and opportunity here? What if they try to enroll their children in more than one private school or have more than one child? Obviously, the amount of scholarship or a parent's personal savings could be quickly eaten away.
While we are talking about money, let's discuss the tuition fees. Most, if not all, private schools charge yearly tuition that is out of the reach of most of the people that would qualify for a voucher, even if you include the funds from the voucher. Sidwell Friends, a notable private school, costs $15,620 per year, plus books, transportation, and extracurricular activities. Remember, the vouchers advocated for the District will only provide $3,200 a year maximum. Where is the additional $12,300 coming from? Obviously, the choice is a voucher program, which is more than a myth.
In this debate, there is an unstated assumption that all private and religious schools are good. This is not always the case. This committee should remember what happened in Milwaukee when several private schools closed in the middle of the year leaving parents to scramble to find a place for their children in any school. Also, a Carnegie Foundation Study–excuse me–also in a Carnegie Foundation Study, it was found that the test scores of voucher students were no better than the test scores from when they were in public schools. In addition, the studies identified that 40 percent of the students who participated in the voucher program returned to public schools the next year. These are examples of success? Academic achievement? I think not.
Worst of all, the DC's voucher proposal violates home rule, which we have very little of now, and the right of the DC resident. DC had a referendum related to vouchers and it was rejected by an overwhelmingly 89 percent. The voters had said it before, and I, as a voter before you today, am saying it again, we do not want vouchers for the District of Columbia.
Realistically, vouchers provide no benefit to public schools. The real beneficiaries are private schools, which receive an enormous financial windfall at the expense of a troubling financial shortage for our public schools.
I want Congress to maintain its commitment to providing children in the District with a quality public education, not diverting limited resources into public [sic] and religious schools.
I, as a parent, demand that Congress work with myself and other parents to develop better public schools and safer communities. The District has public schools, which are doing an excellent job, and others, which are clearly not. If those schools which are not succeeding would receive the $45 million proposed for the vouchers over the next five years, then they could enact some real reform that would benefit all students, not a select few.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, the funds proposed for the vouchers would make–proposed for the vouchers–would make a great impact if you use them for the following purposes: updating technology; additional teacher's training and salary increases so that we may keep the good teachers and attract the more qualified teachers; building repairs, updated textbook and materials for students, HELPS for the eleventh and twelfth graders to improve their skills in reading and mathematics so when they leave the system that they will have a strong basic education–their time is running out–before and after programs; and increased books and materials for our public library. Let's help Ms. Ackerman to achieve the high expectation that she already has underway for the DC public schools.
In closing, allow me to restate that education policy must be about helping all children, not a select few. Education reform must be about raising the opportunities and achievement for all students, not a few. Public schools were created to give every American a chance to learn, succeed, to obtain the American dream. Public schools are the cornerstone of our democracy. Let's not abandon them in our Nation's Capitol just when they need our help the most.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to testify today and I will be happy to answer any questions at the appropriate time. Thank you.
SEE APPENDIX B – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF SHEILA CARSON-CARR, PARENT
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Carson-Carr, and we will want that opportunity. Unfortunately, ladies and gentleman and colleagues, there are two votes underway on the House floor that will detain us for approximately 20 to 25 minutes.
Ms. Carson-Carr. Okay.
Chairman Riggs. While we're gone the Subcommittee is going to stand in recess, but while we're gone, Ms. Carson-Carr, I want you to ponder, if you would, so I'm kind of giving you a heads-up because I'm going to ask you, why 7,573 parents with children in the District of Columbia public schools have applied for 1,000 privately-funded scholarships, and what that should tell us as elected decision-makers, policy-makers, about the District of Columbia public schools.
And let me also just stipulate so that everyone in our audience knows what we're talking about here. This is a general hearing on public and private school choice in the District of Columbia, but it's also a prelude to moving a bill, legislation, to the House floor, known as the District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship Act. It is introduced–it's–and sponsored by Majority Leader Dick Armey, who was here earlier. It would provide low-income scholarships to families with incomes below 185 percent of the poverty level. Students whose family incomes are below the poverty level could receive a scholarship of up to $3,200. Students whose family incomes are above the poverty line, but below 185 percent of the poverty level, may receive the lesser of 75 percent of the, of, of the private school tuition or $2,400.
Now when we go to the second round of witnesses, and I hope you can stay for that, we're going to ask these gentlemen, or the second panel of witnesses, whether that, that amount of money, $32–some where in the range of $2,400 to $3,200, would go a long way toward defraying the cost of tuition charged at that particular school. I think you're going to hear some surprising testimony–
Ms. Carson-Carr. Yes.
Chairman Riggs. that may tend to rebut some of the points that you made, Ms. Carson-Carr, but I hope you can, you can stay for that. I also want to point out that these scholarships may be used for tuition costs at public or private school in the District of Columbia, or, as you point out, in the adjacent counties of Maryland and Virginia. But the, that this money may also be used to provide tutoring assistance for students who attend public school in the District of Columbia. So in other words, parents have the, under the legislation, would have the, the choice of, of, of using the money–keeping their children in the District of Columbia public schools and using that money to get them additional help, tutoring assistance, while their students attend District of Columbia public schools, and while their students continue to matriculate and are advanced from grade to grade.
So we will be back very shortly. The Subcommittee stands in recess until our return.
Chairman Riggs. Ladies and gentlemen, if you could be seated, and if our witnesses will come forward again, we will reconvene the Subcommittee hearing on public and private school choice in the District of Columbia. Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden, I want to give you the opportunity to respond to Ms. Carson-Carr's comments, and in the context of your response, I want to ask you how you selected as, if you will, as education consumers and parents, how you selected the private schools that your children now attend, and without hopefully prying any, into any personal, or family financial matters, if you could give us some idea of the cost considerations, how much it costs for your, for your children to attend private school, and obviously you both are receiving assistance. Ms. Gates, as I understand it, from the Washington Scholarship Fund?
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Chairman Riggs. And Ms. Walden, as I understand it, from friends and neighbors, but how far does that assistance go towards defraying the cost of your child's education? Would you go first, Ms. Walden?
Ms. Walden. Sure. My son is at Archbishop Carroll high school.
Chairman Riggs. I know Archbishop Carroll high school well. I should–full-disclosure.
Ms. Walden. [Laughter]
Chairman Riggs. If you'll just allow me for a moment, we have two children still in school, one in public school, and one at a Catholic high school in Alexandria, Virginia, at Bishop Ireton. And so we have been to Carroll high school and have competed with Carroll high school on a number of occasions, so–
Ms. Walden. Okay.
Chairman Riggs. Please proceed.
Ms. Walden. Okay, and he's a–actually it's, it's in my neighborhood so that was certainly a consideration for us. I mean, you know, last summer, when he were having so much difficulty, we thought that having him close to home would certainly be good for us. And I'm a single parent, and I don't have a car so it would also be easier for me to get back and forth, and participate. And he runs track, so you know, he has track meets and we get to go. So all of those things, I considered.
As far as the guys, the young men that are helping me pay–they pay tuition period. I bought uniforms. I pay all his school activity fees. I bought books. I mean, anything other, I pay for. And, of course, you know, it's just me and my income. It's just my son and I right now. It's a, so we end up–you know, I haven't even added it up–but we're probably making–spending maybe several thousand dollars for the whole school year.
And then remember he runs track. So I have to pay for track trips, and shoes, and uniforms, and stuff. And, you know, you could say that he doesn't have to run track, but for him it's important. I mean he needs this. He hasn't had a lot of successes. I mean, he's, he's, he's not done well socially. He's very, very quiet, and very shy, and he has found track has just, has just opened up everything for him, and he's real good. So he's, he's having some real successes there, so it wasn't, can he run track, or can he not run track? This child needs to be able to succeed, you know, athletically. So our, our commitment–but whatever comes up. I mean, I work only four days a week. My income is not high. I do have a really supportive family so if it gets really bad I can sometimes, you know, call my family but they have other obligations also.
Chairman Riggs. Let me ask you, then what would the approximate total cost be of his education, including his participation in sports? Ballpark?
Ms. Walden. About, about $6,000.
Chairman Riggs. Per year?
Ms. Walden. About $5,000.
Chairman Riggs. $5,000 to $6,000–
Ms. Walden. Yes.
Chairman Riggs. Per year?
Ms. Walden. Yes, $5,000 to $6,000.
Chairman Riggs. And do you get any assistance from Archbishop Carroll high school?
Ms. Walden. Not presently but, with his track I understand that he'll be able to get some financial aid next year.
Chairman Riggs. Okay, and what, how old is he now, what grade is he in?
Ms. Walden. He's tenth grade.
Chairman Riggs. Tenth grade.
Ms. Walden. And he started in September.
Chairman Riggs. Very good. Ms. Gates.
Ms. Gates. Your question again, please?
Chairman Riggs. Well, my question was how you selected the private schools that your children attend? You have two at it sounds like a private–
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Chairman Riggs. Christian school?
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Chairman Riggs. And one at a Catholic–
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Chairman Riggs. school in the District of Columbia. But how did you select those schools? What is the approximate cost? And how far does the scholarship, or the tuition assistance, that you receive from the Washington Scholarship Fund go towards meeting the costs of their, their tuition, and if there is, if there is a, you know, a shortfall between the assistance that you receive and the total cost of their education, how do you make that up?
Ms. Gates. Okay, I chose Calvary Christian Academy because that's where Derrick, my nine-year-old, has been going for the past four and a half years. Upon his entry, he just excelled right from the beginning. So it was no question about where I wanted to send the other two. Unfortunately, for Silky at Calvin Christian Academy they only go to the sixth grade. I had a niece that went to Holy Redeemer who was very dysfunctional, who was very disorderly, but was made to go to Holy Redeemer, and if they could teach my niece, April, and discipline her, Silky would be a piece of cake. So that is why I chose Holy Redeemer.
Fortunate enough for me just part of the year, I washed pots at my church, I sold dinners, and I sold cakes. And that's what paid for tuition. My pastor, Bishop Owens, at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church, matched Derrick's and William's scholarships. They matched what the Washington Scholarship Fund was doing, so I thank God for that. And for Silky, Silky is a part-time teacher's aide at Calvary Christian Academy, and because of his work, because of his zeal, one of the teachers has matched his scholarship. So I'm a very blessed lady.
Chairman Riggs. Yes. And how old are they, and what grades are they in?
Ms. Gates. Silky is 13. He's in the eighth grade at Holy Redeemer on his way to Carroll. Because he will be an "A" student before he leaves Holy Redeemer. And Derrick is nine in the fourth grade at Calvary Christian Academy. And William is six years old in the first grade at Calvary Christian Academy.
Chairman Riggs. Okay. Ms. Carson-Carr let me ask you, you talked about the–possibly draining money from, taxpayer funding from the public schools, the public school system. But under the District of Columbia Student Opportunity Scholarship proposal, the, do you recognize that the, that there might actually be somewhat of a cost-savings, or a cost-benefit to the District of Columbia? And let me explain what I mean by that. As I explained when we left, the scholarship assistance, the taxpayer-funded scholarship assistance, would be in the range of $2,400 to $3,200 per pupil per year. And we're told that the per pupil expenditure in the District of Columbia schools is $9,176 per year. So if a family gets the maximum assistance that would still leave somewhere between $6,000 to $7,000 in the District of Columbia, for the District of Columbia public schools even though that child would now be attending private schools. Do you acknowledge that?
Ms. Carson-Carr. I acknowledge that the $9,000 figure that you quoted for DC public schools is quite high. Mary Levy with Parents United has said that that figure is incorrect and she gives a figure of more like $6,000 for DC public schools and that–would benefit the public schools; the money would benefit the public schools if it was all given to the DC public schools period. Case in point, when General Becton and McLaury and Burmen came to the Hill last June, May or June–March, I believe of last year, to ask for additional funding for school construction, they were denied. The $21 million that they were trying to receive. So if that–if we had the money already, we would benefit.
Chairman Riggs. Okay. I might have exceeded my time, but if you, if you don't mind, let me ask one other quick follow-up, and that is, what do you say to Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden and to the other 7,000 plus District of Columbia parents and families that have applied for help, when they say, "Look, we don't have time to wait for the District of Columbia public schools to get their act together. Our children are too precious and their future is here and now." How do you respond, and why have 7,000 plus families applied for the 1,000 scholarships being funded by the District of Columbia or the Washington DC Scholarship Fund?
Ms. Carson-Carr. I agree that all children in the DC public schools are precious because I believe my students, my children are precious, just like these parents here believe that their children are precious. But the 7,000 that you have over here that have applied is less than ten percent of the general population. We have 78,000 students in DC public schools, and to say to them that only 7,000 applied, if they would use that energy to go back into their public schools and demand, and demand as a unit, as parents coming together, that you want this type of education, I don't think that they have seen the great improvement that I have seen, in a short amount of time that the CAO, Ms. Ackerman, has been in the DC public schools, the turnaround that she has implemented.
Yes, time is short that’s why I talked about the eleventh and twelfth graders. I agree time is short. But you still need to make the public schools what they need to be because even though their students might want, they might want their students to go to private schools, but they still live in the neighborhood where the majority of the students are in public schools and, what is the main thing that people say now that children listen to? It's peers. So the peers that their children who are in private schools are listening to are the students that are in public schools. So if you make the public schools what they need to be then we wouldn't need–we would not have this debate right here and now about private versus public schools.
Chairman Riggs. Okay. I appreciate your comments, and again I appreciate–
Ms. Gates. Thank you.
Chairman Riggs. your being here. I'll just close my, my comments by saying that if we accept your–the figure that you suggested in your testimony, that the legislation would fund at perhaps as many 2,000 scholarships for families, and added those 2,000 to the 1,000 funded privately through the Washington Scholarship Fund, that would be, potentially be up to 3,000 students of lower-income families who would have more educational opportunity and I would submit, and I think this is the crux of the debate, I would submit that 3,000 students, or you know, 3,000 families being able to choose the education appropriate for their children, would have this boot-strapping effect. It would cause improvement in the public schools. But I bet that's just where we disagree.
I also want to say for the record that what we are, that we are using the 1997 Digest of Education Statistics whose most recent data shows that the average daily attendance in District of Columbia public schools is 71,001 children, and that then works out to a per-pupil expenditure in the District of Columbia public schools of $9,176 per student.
Let me ask, if it would be all right with Mr. Roemer and Mr. Owens, if I could recognize Ms. Norton first, on your side for her questions and comments, would that be okay gentlemen, and then we'll go right to you?
Ms. Norton. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman, I, by coincidence, could I please note that just entering this room in the past three minutes have been students from the John Tyler Elementary School and we welcome you to this hearing. You happen to come at a time that there's a hearing on the DC public schools. Mr. Chairman, these youngsters are part of a program I've started called DC Students in the School–in the Congress, where I try to encourage teachers to bring students to the Congress. I meet with the students, they have a tour of the Capitol, they get to see a debate on the floor. The Congress has–this is part, we believe, of the education of every child, but particularly the child–of the children who live in the District, and I want to welcome you, and am pleased that you happen to come today when we're talking about the DC public schools.
Can I say to these three parents how proud I am of all three of you. I mean, each one of you have touched me in a very special way and I know I speak for everybody in this room. There is no way in which the three of you can be pitted against one another. The reason I respect each and every one of you is that you have acted like a mother, and listened to a mother's mind and conscience. And a mother has to do what a mother has to do for her child. That is why each and every one of you have my respect, no more or no less for, for either of you–any of you–for the way in which you may disagree about vouchers. I respect that you know what comes first, and that for each of you it has taken very special initiative, for Ms. Walden and Ms. Gates to find the money and the time, to go through the hassle to get their children in private school, for Ms. Carson-Carr who has had to put up with the DC public schools and has done a spectacular job. You, you, you, each and every one of you enjoy the respect of I'm sure everyone on this panel.
I know you understand, that as you must listen to your conscience as a mother, that I must listen to my conscience as a public official, and that I am responsible for 7,000 to 8,000 kids in those schools, and I have got to push these folks up here who've had a lot of talk about the schools and haven't put one dime on the table. I have got to push them to put some money where their mouth is. And that doesn't have anything to do with you all because you all did ask anybody for anything and you have not waited for vouchers. You have done what a mother has to do. You've done the best thing for your child. Could I ask you, did any of you attend the DC public schools?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Yes.
Ms. Norton. All three of you?
Ms. Walden. No–
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Ms. Walden. I'm from Arkansas.
Ms. Norton. All three of you have raised your children in the District of Columbia?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Yes.
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Ms. Carson-Carr. Born and raised Washingtonian.
Ms. Gates. Yes, born and raised Washingtonian.
Ms. Carson-Carr. Second generation.
Ms. Walden. And my two older children went through DCPS.
Ms. Norton. Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden may I thank you for putting your children in private school and remaining in the city and paying taxes in the cities.
Ms. Gates. Amen.
Ms. Norton. The private alternative–
Ms. Norton. –is a wonderful alternative and lots of folks get "out of Dodge"
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Ms. Norton. because they are disgusted with the school system. I'm a fourth generation Washingtonian who went through DC public schools, Bruce Monroe Elementary School, Vanuka when it was a junior high school, and I'm a proud "red and black" graduate of Dunbar high school.
Ms. Gates. All right.
Ms. Norton. And I share your anguish, the notion that these schools are worse than they were when I went. Of course, they didn't have drugs then, people didn't have–families were together, and there were lots of jobs in this town. But I could not be more disgusted with what you have found in the DC public schools. I share your outrage and I'm determined to help Dr. Ackerman do something about it. And you know, when you say, "I can't wait," you shouldn't wait. Let me say, I also applaud the Washington Scholarship Fund. I don't know a darn thing about them except they stepped up to the plate.
Ms. Gates. Amen.
Ms. Norton. And they said, "Here's some money, while they're up there debating, waiting for a court injunction and a veto, here's some money" that they put on the table. I'm going to ask you Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden, are you aware that under the bill that is before this committee today, you would not qualify for any of that money because your children are already in private school?
Ms. Walden. I've read the bill.
Ms. Norton. Well, I'm saying, I just want to know–
Ms. Walden. Okay.
Ms. Norton. –put it on the record that neither of you are qualified. Ms. Carson-Carr, you have two children in the DC public schools and one who has graduated?
Ms. Carson-Carr. That's correct.
Ms. Norton. Tell me about the child who's graduated. Was that child so crippled in the DC public schools that he's now in the streets?
Ms. Carson-Carr. No.
Ms. Norton. And not doing much?
Ms. Carson-Carr. No, my oldest was helped by DC public schools and she attends Bowie State University, and she wants to be a physical therapist.
Ms. Norton. Tell me about your two children. You say they go to Eastern?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Yes. They attend Eastern Senior High School and they're in the academies at Eastern. Eastern has two academies, one is the Health and Human Services Academy and the other, Bianca is in the pre-law academy because they decided in junior high school that they were interested in these areas of interest. They were interviewed at Eastern, they looked at their grades, and they were accepted into the academy, and they have started gearing subjects and experiences in those two particular fields.
Ms. Norton. Do you feel–are you aware that the District of Columbia public schools have many, many problems that, that they need to attend to?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Oh, yes, I know that DC public schools have many problems, that is why I'm here today to talk about the money, that would, I feel, that would be taken away from the DC public schools right at the crux of the problems that we know that can be fixed. We have a leader in Ms. Ackerman who knows her business. She is an educator. She understands what is needed, but she just needs the resources. So yes I do understand what some and the majority of the problems are in DC public schools and money and resources are one of the things that we need to do to fix it.
Ms. Norton. Do you think that even today that as, as bad as many of the DC public schools are today that, based on the experience of your children, that a child can get an education, get into school, and live a, live a life of, that is at least equal to you and your husband's?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Yes, I do. And DC schools aren't all bad.
Ms. Norton. What about the wrap on DC public schools? Up here people get on the House floor and they, they say that the DC public schools are virtually something for the sewer. The description of the DC public schools is, is such that its language I don't think I'd want to carry back home. How would you describe the DC public schools?
Ms. Carson-Carr. I would say that the DC public schools have problems but there is a large majority of the schools that have dedicated teachers that work very hard with their students to try to give them the best possible education that they can have with a shortage in supplies, a shortage in salary, a shortage in time to do things with. I think that if people really took a look at the DC public schools, it's not all bad. The Stanford 9 test results they keep throwing up in our face, it was, it was administered improperly. This test was supposed to take three to five days. Do you know these students took this test in one day? One day. They made these elementary school children; these junior high school children sit there and take that test all day long when it's supposed to be three to five days. How would you do on a test like that? Would you do that well? I don't think so.
So these, these scores that they keep putting in the news, keep telling these students, "Oh, you're dumb, you don't know anything, look at these test results." How are these children supposed to feel? I really wish that they would stop doing that and give DC students a chance.
Ms. Norton. Thank you very much. I want to again thank Ms. Carson-Carr, Ms. Gates, and Ms. Walden. I'm very proud of your testimony and proud of the way you've carried yourselves here today. And thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Norton. Congressman Souder.
Mr. Souder. I want to share in the commendation of all of you for your concern with your kids and I think that all of us who support school choice also realize that the overwhelming majority of kids in America, upwards of 80 percent to 90 percent will always be in the public school system. Part of this is to help leverage the public schools because the facts are, and it's not just DC, although DC tends to have these problems more than some other urban districts, partly because of shortage of funds, partly because it's difficult to get teachers there. There are many, many reasons but the fact is 78 percent of fourth graders, regardless of how the test was given, performed below the basic level that was required.
In my home city of Fort Wayne we see similar problems, not as great, but we had, I think it's 70 to 80 percent of African-American students in the public schools performing at "B" grade average or below. Now that's something we need to look at and if we try to downplay the fact that there are these problems, it becomes very difficult for us to try to address it. We also have had that, and it's been well-publicized here, that the District public schools spend more on administration and less on instruction. They spend three times more in the office of superintendent than other school districts. There are substantive problems and partly we're trying to help parents gain some leverage.
And I was reading, I'm sorry I wasn't here for the opening testimony but I was reading Ms. Walden's testimony and a comment that Ms. Carson-Carr said kind of struck a nerve but it, it didn't seem to be verified in your personal experience. She said that if the parents who had been seeking private schools had been spending their time in the public schools, and that energy, that the public schools would have reformed. But you said you were involved in your school?
Ms. Walden. Yes, I've been involved for years. I have three kids, all who went to DCPS. My son just came out of DCPS this year. I was an active parent, I tutored, I mentored, I was up there for every activity. And, and I want to thank Ms. Norton for not making us seem like we only care about our own children. We care about all the children in this city. I mean, we work real hard to get the word out and we talk to parents. And I, I'm not going to sit here and be made to feel like my concern is just for my child. I worked real hard to stay in DCPS, and I, I mean, I fought up at the schools, and talked to the teachers, and worked with the principal and tried to make sure–and I got tired of going up there and seeing knives pulled on my son and seeing him sit over in a corner and not participate in things because he was scared. You know, I mean, we worked real hard.
I am a public education person. I believe in public schools. But I believe the kids have got to have the parents have got to have an opportunity to find out what is best for their schools. Right now, despite the efforts of Ms. Ackerman, and General Becton, and whoever else is doing it, they may be making some strides but they are not making the kinds of strides that we need to, to make sure our kids are getting the education today, you know. We need to have some choices. I want to be able to send my kids to public school without, to private, to public school without worrying about whether something happens to him. But if I can't, then I want to be able to send my child to a private school, and I think every parent in this city ought to have the opportunity to be able to do that. I read the voucher deal. I know what it says.
Mr. Souder. Ms. Gates, were you involved in this public school with your children at all before you made the decision to move to private schools?
Ms. Gates. For 18 years I was involved. I taught, I tutored, I counseled. I did everything that was necessary to do then, and I still am actively involved in public schools, and plan to stay actively involved in public schools, whether my children stay in private school or not.
Mr. Souder. My daughter is in her sophomore year of an education program because she wants to be a teacher, and there are many kids here today from the public school systems in DC, and we've had–particularly during the school shutdown–a number of the kids in our office that weren't able to go to a school, and I'm very supportive of the public schools, what would you recommend that we can do, having been through this yourself, to try to improve the public schools, because there are many committed teachers there, it's not every teacher that's having a problem. In fact, we could easily argue it takes a real commitment to stay in the public schools in a lot of these kind of situations. Could each of you give some suggestions of what can be done, not only by Congress, but what can be done by parents and communities to try to change the schools, the public schools? Maybe Ms. Gates could start and Ms. Walden, then Ms. Carson-Carr.
Ms. Gates. First of all, we need to be more concerned with the children than with ourselves. We're so busy pointing the finger at one another saying whose not doing this and whose not doing that, and we're losing children through the cracks. We have children that are not even attending school. We need to address that. We need, I know back in my day, they went out and they got you and they brought you back to school if you were loitering out on the streets or whatever. We're not doing that anymore. We need to; we need to snatch our children off the street, number one. Number two; our teachers need some backbone, not from the school board, but personal backbone. You made a commitment to teach these children, stop whining, stop complaining, and get the job done. Whatever it takes, get the job done. I believe that we need to pay these teachers, we need to increase their salary. We need to train them to deal with violence prevention, to deal with anger management. They need proper training. Our teachers need zeal. We need to sort of like, increase the pot so we will have takers that will be interested in becoming professional teachers. Teachers have lost hope. If they've lost hope, go shuffle some papers somewhere, bring some new blood in. This is what I suggest.
Mr. Souder. Can the other witnesses–
Ms. Walden. Well, I agree with what Ms. Gates said but I also need to–think we need to make sure we have principals and administrators in the schools that will help these teachers once we, you know, get them with some hope again. I do believe that teachers have lost a lot of hope. I, you know, I'm from a family who has teachers and, and I know that in my own, personal experiences, my family members have lost hope in the public education system, and I'm not from DC and these, my family doesn't teach in DC, so this is all over the place, you know. A lot of people don't feel supported by their administrators but what I've seen in DC is the same kinds of issues, you know, and I mean, and teachers have said that to me when I've gone to them about problems with my son before I took him out of DCPS and invariably out here, well you know, "the principal won't agree to that." Well, I think, something has to be done to bring the administrators, and the teachers, and parents together where we're working for the best efforts.
See, I don't even understand all these debates. Right now, the focus is what are we going to do to make sure our kids get a quality education. I mean, I'm not fighting with anybody about whether DCPS is doing this, or private schools are doing this, or whatever. All I want to know is that, the bottom line and that people understand in Congress, or whomever, is that what we have to be concerned with is that children are getting the best we can give them. I don't want to wake up 20 years from now and some child of mine or some child I have access to is saying to me, "Why didn't you all do anything about it?" You know, which is why I fight, you know, because that's the bottom line. There's no, nothing else to this. Make sure we're giving whether, whatever choice is, make sure we're giving them the best we can give them.
So I think we just have to train people, like Ms. Gates said, we just need to make sure that everybody is trained and given the same kind of information that will equip them to work with our kids period.
Ms. Carson-Carr. And I also want to echo the point that the other two parents have made that we need to be a united front. We need to be adults, to be an adult, to truly make students first and let them understand that we are adults, we know what's supposed to be good for you, and this is what you need to do in order to do it, to build morale and self-esteem back into the DC public school system. So these teachers that are beaten down can find some new hope and some new life to give to our students. These are just some of the things, along with what the other parents have said that is desperately needed in DC public schools, along with the funds.
Mr. Souder. I–
Ms. Carson-Carr. Oh, excuse me, and I wanted to say another thing is that the LSRT, which is the Local School Restructuring Team, that is supposed to be, supposedly be in every DC public school, and that's supposed to be an advisory committee that is made up of four teachers, four parents, the administrator, the union, a support staff, and high school students, and this team of people is supposed to advise the principal on, from hiring to the academic program of the schools. So if we could really get the LSRT working the way it should, then parents would have a way to express themselves and truly make a difference in the education of their children.
Because that's all it's about. We're out there fighting. I'm like these other parents. I've been out there. But we're few. And that's what my statement was before. But yes we're out there but we need the parents as a whole to come out, not just a few of us who are out there fighting for the best for our particular children.
Ms. Gates. Not only do we need the parents, not only do we need the teachers, but we also need the children. Children have a voice. They can better tell us about helping them. You know a lot of times we take them for granted. We don't take the time to say, "How can I better service you?" And I'm sure if we asked them, I know as a mother myself, I ask my children, "How can I better help you?" "How can I better help the young people?" Go to a young person and ask a young person. Thank you.
Ms. Carson-Carr. If I can comment one second on that also. I'm glad you mentioned that because I'm also the vice president of Eastern Senior High School, which is the largest, populated high school in the city, 7,056 students. I asked Ms. Ackerman to come out and speak to our children so she can hear from herself, for herself, what the children want what the needs are. And she came out and did it, and she came back with a new understanding of the needs from the students in DC public schools. Thank you.
Chairman Riggs. Okay. Thank you, Mr. Souder. Congressman Roemer.
Mr. Roemer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I, too, want to join in welcoming–
Chairman Riggs. Mr. Roemer, will you yield just for a moment because Mr. Owens–
Mr. Roemer. Absolutely.
Mr. Owens. Chairman–
Chairman Riggs. Yes, please.
Mr. Owens. I think I was here first and I have an appointment so I–
Chairman Riggs. I apologize; I had Mr. Roemer being down as, as arriving earlier but Mr. Roemer, are you willing to yield to Mr. Owens?
Mr. Roemer. I was here right at 10 o'clock but I would be, if Mr. Owens needs to be somewhere I–
Mr. Owens. No, he steps out and I didn't, when I came in he wasn't here.
Mr. Roemer. Mr. Owens, if you've got to be somewhere, I'd be happy to–
Mr. Owens. Yes, I do have an appointment; I'd appreciate it.
Mr. Roemer. Absolutely.
Chairman Riggs. All right, Mr. Owens you're recognized.
Mr. Owens. I just want to start by reinforcing the statement that Ms. Walden made about the fact that the first concern of every parent has to be for your children. And they only live through this cycle once and if you don't do it right this time, you won't get another–second chance. So all of you should show that concern and you certainly can be mutually beneficial to each other in this experience that you're into now. I think you also show a bit of frustration about all these issues related to the process as you try to do that. But these issues are very important and as parents who are leaders you ought to try to get other parents to understand that, that what happens with your children down there at the level of your trying to get them through the education system and get this process to benefit them, is impacted by what we do here, you know, and, you know, first your teachers and your principals–they could get parents to be more active if they really cared about parents being active. They could help parents to understand and be a greater force in this process of trying to improve the schools. So they're paid, and you ought to put pressure on them and not let them off the hook in terms of, of what's happening with parents.
Parents, especially parents, low-income parents who are struggling to try to put bread on the table and make other, other things happen in their families, are less likely to come out unless they have a great deal of encouragement. But schools haven't been able to do that and the people who are paid in this education process ought to be pressured to do more.
But we ought to be, you ought to pressure your board of education people to do more and your city councilmen to do more, and the mayor to do more, and the Members of Congress to do more, because we have an atmosphere in this Nation where teachers, and most, certainly most inner-city communities are treated like second-class citizens. And you don't encourage people who are good to stay in the field, and you don't encourage people who are good to go into the field, because they see how they, they're treated as a profession, starting with the whole matter of money, we don't pay them enough.
And when there's a budget-cut as in this City, and as in other cities, they, they, they throw them to the wind. In New York City, the most experienced teachers, the most experienced principals were enticed to get out of the system by being given bail-out packages, early retirement, and all kinds of things were said to them. "We really don't need you; you cost too much money, your experience is something that may be valuable but you're costing us too much money." "Get out, let inexperienced people come in, let them be the administrators, and principals, and the teachers," that's what the municipality and the system was saying to the teachers and repeatedly does that. Whenever there is a budget-cut, they, they, they, they make them feel that they certainly are, are not necessary.
And part of the problem is that here at the national level. You're addressing Members of Congress now and you ought to ask the question or go back with some information about how big is our commitment. We're about to give $18 billion, $18 billion, B-I-L-L-I-O-N, to the International Monetary Fund to help bail-out Indonesia and South Korea and other countries who've gone bankrupt because of incompetence and corruption, et cetera, whatever. But they're going to use taxpayers' money here to go into that Fund. Last year we increased the, the defense budget and there is repeated calls for increases in the defense budget at a time when, you know, the threat to our Nation militarily is, is, is minimal. These things are going on while education suffers and you ought to think in, in those terms.
Now, more specifically, let me just ask a few questions. One, do you feel Mrs. Carson-Carr that all of this rumbling and discussion about education has had an impact in a positive direction in DC public schools, are there because of incompetence, corruption and neglect from the top starting with the mayors, and the, the superintendent, they haven't been doing things right. Are they more alert and, and functioning now in a different way, that now that the public schools are being threatened, threatened with a, vouchers, and also I, nobody has mentioned charter schools–I'm going to ask about charter schools in a minute–you've authorized 20 charter schools, I think, in DC, is there something happening now different from before? Are they; are we moving in a positive direction, do you think?
Ms. Carson-Carr. We're definitely moving in a positive direction to, say, where we came from, maybe corruption is everywhere. And if I can sidetrack a second, I really get upset when people keep looking at DC as being corrupt, and all this that’s everywhere. Everybody brings their friend along. This isn't anything new. But to get back on track–yes, it has had a positive effect by bringing Arlene Ackerman in and her staff, that has really gone down to the teachers and understand, before, when we had superintendents come in they would do things on the top and just the administrators would reap the benefits. But with this new staffing that we have, they are training teachers, they are going into the classroom.
Mr. Owens. So you do see–
Ms. Carson-Carr. They're going into schools.
Mr. Owens. You do see some positive changes?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Yes, I do.
Mr. Owens. And I was not talking about corruption in Washington, DC I'm more concerned about corruption in New York City.
Mr. Owens. And other similar cities. Ms. Gates, just, I don't want to be repetitive, just recapitulate for me, you have three children in private schools?
Ms. Gates. Yes, I do.
Mr. Owens. And the tuition for each is how much?
Ms. Gates. Tuition for each child is close to $4,500.
Mr. Owens. For each child?
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Mr. Owens. So you are bearing a load of $12,000 to $15,000 in tuition? I mean, the Washington Scholarship Fund is paying the overall load, some of it as I take it?
Ms. Gates. Well, by the grace of God, they, there have been other sponsors that have matched–
Mr. Owens. Yes.
Ms. Gates. The Washington Scholarship Fund amount for this tuition.
Mr. Owens. In your immediate neighborhood, the locale where you reside, how many children are going to private schools?
Ms. Gates. Presently there are about ten, with the entire neighborhood on their way to the Washington Scholarship Fund.
Mr. Owens. Yes, applying. I mean, I imagine–
Ms. Gates. Yes, applying.
Mr. Owens. I imagine ten are in but I imagine many more applied, right?
Ms. Gates. Well, as long as the word is getting out, and as long as God gives me breath in my body to inform the people–
Mr. Owens. Yes.
Ms. Gates. There are going to be whole lot of–
Mr. Owens. I heard that 7,000 applied for–
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Mr. Owens. 1,000 places
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Mr. Owens. Just as in New York the mayor set up a private fund. You know, New York has, has a million children in school, but they had a thousand scholarships so 21,000 applied. You know, you would expect that. The problem is, as Ms. Carson-Carr said, given the fact that there's so few opportunities available and so little money is being made available for these scholarships, even if the private schools had the capacity, private and church, had the capacity to absorb thousands of children, the money is not there to cover it in this country where, you know, the stock market is higher than ever before. We've got rich people out there who could make donations, and even the government, if we were to go that far, as to provide more scholarships, and $7 million worth here is going to be provided, I think with new money. I congratulate the proposal to, to, to not rob Peter to pay Paul, but they're going to provide for new money in this $7 million proposal for scholarships.
But even it that happens, is the capacity there to absorb more than a, than a small percentage of the total children? Which means that the public schools in the final analysis for the next 10 or 20 years are going to have to educate most of our children. And no matter what we do with private school vouchers or charter schools which we haven't mentioned here before, and I've run out of time, the chief advocate of charter schools over here is going to speak next I think. Even if you had the money and the, the people who wanted to go to these private schools using vouchers, there's nowhere to go, is there?
Ms. Gates. When you say there's nowhere to go, explain that please?
Mr. Owens. No, for the, if you had all 7,000 who applied last time, if they had the money and were ready with their tuition, their set portion of tuition, it, can they absorb 7,000 youngsters?
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Mr. Owens. Or 21,000 in New York?
Ms. Gates. There is somewhere to go. There is somewhere to go. There are schools that are waiting–
Mr. Owens. You think the capacity is here in this area–
Ms. Gates. Yes.
Mr. Owens. to absorb 7,000 youngsters?
Ms. Gates. Yes, yes, yes.
Mr. Owens. All right, I think we're going to hear later on from some people who are from the system who will go into more detail. Is the capacity there, and is 7,000, what percentage, that's 78,000 children in the schools, that's still, you know, a small percentage of the total number of youngsters who have to be served, so they, most of them are still going to be in public schools.
Ms. Gates. Mr. Owens, we're not trying to dissolve the public schools.
Mr. Owens. No, no, I'm not criticizing you–
Ms. Gates. We evidently want the doors to be open.
Mr. Owens. I'm just making a point.
Ms. Gates. We just want to have the opportunity to choose.
Mr. Owens. Yes.
Ms. Gates. To choose what facility we would like–
Mr. Owens. Yes, your job–
Ms. Gates. to place our children in.
Mr. Owens. Your job, and I commend you, is to get your children through their schooling as best as you can because they won't have a second chance. And I commend you for doing that. I'm not criticizing at all. I'm just trying to make a point about, what is the solution? The solution comes down to we must improve the public schools because that's where most of our children are going to be educated.
Ms. Gates. I thought the solution was to educate our children period.
Mr. Owens. No, that's the–
Ms. Gates. Period.
Mr. Owens. the goal of every parent but to educate–
Ms. Gates. Not just parents, not just the people who have children–
Mr. Owens. To educate the great mass of children, we must improve the public schools and that's, that's the point I wanted to make. Thank you.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Congressman Owens, and you're very right. The next panel is going to focus, I think, with this panel sort of focusing on the, the demand-side, if you will, and the next panel is going to focus on the supply-side when we hear from Mr. Brian Bennett, the Director of School Operations for the School Futures Research Foundation; and Superintendent Callahan.
Mr. Owens. I hope to get back to–
Chairman Riggs. I hope you can rejoin us.
Mr. Owens. cover part of that.
Chairman Riggs. I am pleased to recognize now the co-sponsor of the Roemer-Riggs, Riggs-Roemer Charter School bill, Congressman Roemer.
Ms. Roemer. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I, I want to reiterate my welcome to the parents here. Not only for your concern about your children, but your concern about education. I think we are all here this morning to try to find some bold and innovative ways to infuse our schools with better teachers, better students, better children, more informed and active parents for everybody. Not just in DC, but in Indiana, in California, and Texas.
Now we may disagree a little bit on some of the answers but I just want to say I'm not here to agree to disagree with anybody. I'm here to try to understand where the problems are and criticize both parties. I think, quite frankly, the Democrats are a little bit too comfortable sometimes with the status quo and too reluctant to take on some of the special interests. And I think sometimes the Republicans are coming up with some of the answers that through tax-breaks help certain groups of people and don't help others, and take money away from the public school system. Let's try to find some answers to some of these problems. Now I am a very strong proponent of public choice so that Ms. Gates, that if, and I want to say that the Washington Scholarship Fund, I applaud them, I think they're doing a great job. This is money coming from the private sector going to your children to help provide them better choices and better education. What I'm against is taking that $12,000 or $15,000 away from the public schools and giving it to the private schools. If the private sector comes up with that money and, through choice, wants to help provide more options for people that's something that the Washington Scholarship Fund can do and I applaud that. But I don't think it should come at the expense of somebody else, or that could hurt another school. What I worry about is that vouchers may have that impact, and charter schools provide the choice within public schools, less regulation from Washington, less regulation from the state capital, more competition within public schools, more public choice for parents and students to go anywhere in the public system they want. I think that's a very good idea.
I think what the Chicago schools are doing, closing down schools that are not working, to fire teachers and principals that aren't doing their jobs, to reconstitute schools and do partnerships with the higher education institutions so that when you fire a poorly performing teacher or principal, you have a new person to bring in and they can't hold you hostage. Those kinds of things are resulting in higher scores in all the Chicago schools because we're trying to improve every single school and every single opportunity for students and not just some. They've resulted in less absenteeism, higher attendance rates, lower pregnancy rates, higher scores, and it is an overall public school model that tries to invest in better choices, more discipline in the schools, more safety in the schools.
As I, I ask you a couple of questions; I want to start with Ms. Walden because what you said about your child being threatened with knives and safety, I completely empathize with. I would be very worried if my children were running into that too. And DC schools, the schools opened three weeks late because roofs were not adequate. I saw a front-page article the other day about not enough computers being in DC schools. These are things that I'm not sure that vouchers would address safety, computers, roofs, and qualified teachers. How do you respond to that Ms. Walden?
Ms. Walden. Well, he's safe, he has a computer, he's got qualified teachers in private school–
Mr. Roemer. And he's not in the public school system?
Ms. Walden. And he's in private school.
Mr. Roemer. And what do we do about the remaining 78–77,000 children in public schools?
Ms. Walden. We find a way to work together to figure it out. Public schools need to be better. We could have charter schools; we can have vouchers to send them to private schools. Why can't we do it all? You know, we're talking about 2,000 kids here, we're talking about 20 charter schools a year that, some of which have been chartered that are possibly going to open up in September that probably will take, will be small, maybe 3,000 kids. So we've got 5,000 kids educated with some kind of choice now. And then we make sure that the public school is doing what they're doing, I mean, it. We could do it all.
I mean, I don't see what's the difficulty in providing a way for low-income parents who may not have a charter school in their area, and certainly have bad schools in their, public schools in their area, why can't we take that child out of their community and, and put him in a private school? And have charter schools? You know, we're talking about 20 charter schools a year that are probably going to have an average of two, three hundred kids and they're going to be in an area that the kids have got to get to and–
Mr. Roemer. Well, let me cut back to my question about, and I appreciate your, your answer but what do we do about children that are still in public schools where knives are being pulled on other students?
Ms. Walden. We have to make, provide better security. I mean, I think that's the part of, of the upgrading of the DC public school system which I, I think could stand some movement. I really do.
Mr. Roemer. So you think the–
Ms. Walden. But I didn't want William there.
Mr. Roemer. I don't blame you for–
Ms. Walden. you know–
Mr. Roemer. wanting to get out and get into some other options and choices because I think we need to do more for all our schools, not just for DC schools.
Ms. Walden. And that's all I think we're talking about, Ms. Gates and myself, this is not a fight about DC parents, whether we're going to keep them in the DCPS or take them out of DCPS, this is about people wanting the best possible education they can get for their children, and I think that we're going just, it's just going to take a lot of work. And I think General Becton, Ms. Ackerman and, and the whole group, that they have a big job ahead of them, you know. And I, I will still support the public schools.
Mr. Roemer. Well, we need your support and your ideas–
Ms. Walden. William is 15, you know.
Mr. Roemer. in the public schools too. You keep involved in them. Ms., Ms. Carson-Carr, if I could ask you, you cited Eastern School with 1,756 students, you also said that you've been very involved in your student's education but you don't think enough other parents are. Can you give me any indication at Eastern, which is probably no different than other schools across the country, in, in maybe not enough parents being involved. What kind of percentage of parents are involved at Eastern and how do we increase parental involvement in our Nation's schools?
Ms. Carson-Carr. Well, the percentage I would say at Eastern is 30 to 40 percent of the parents actively involved. I would say another 20 percent are a little involved and we have that 40 percent that are just sitting out there, for whatever reason, not involved in their children's lives, educationally, anyway.
One of the ways that we could increase parental involvement is making parents welcome in the schools. And that's a big thing for parents, to feel like they're welcome and appreciated when they walk into the door of a school, and not being turned off by security, office personnel, teachers talking down to them.
The parents have made; they can make a difference and also the time of day that you have things, okay. If you're going to have a meeting for parents and you really want parent participation, you can't have it at 5:00 in Washington, DC Because either we are coming home from work or we're just getting off from work. But if you can have it at 6:30 or 7 o'clock, I have seen it for myself, the parents will come out.
We just had, for the first time at Eastern Senior High School, with, on the insistence of the parents, a mid-year progress, a mid-advisory progress report because we were tired as parents of being given report cards at the end of advisory saying that this is the grade. You can't do anything about that grade. So the principal was reluctant, "Oh, no, they're not going to come out. They really want the report cards." Well, they came out and they stayed. They stayed. We stayed in the auditorium an extra half an hour. They stayed; they were listening to what we had to say and then went up to the teachers. So you have parents that care, but it just needs to be so that they're made welcome. The situation is, so that they can have time to come and Congress to do the bills to make it easy for employees to give time off, time off, you just sign a little paper showing that you went to your child's school, and I guarantee, your talking about education changing. When you're parents are in the building, you think that education, your attitude, your discipline, and not only your child, your neighbors' children, because you're going to go back and tell. "You know what I saw so-and-so doing in the hallway?" So it gets to be like, people try to do backwards and forward like the old days, okay.
Mr. Roemer. Thank you. Mr. Chairman, just one last question for Ms. Gates, whom I haven't asked a question. Ms. Gates, I've just introduced a bill in the last couple of days for alternative certification for teachers. Too oftentimes, we have teachers that are not adequately qualified to teach in a classroom, whether that be in, again DC, or whether that be in California. Fifty percent of the teachers that are teaching advanced science and math classes don't have a major or a minor in the subject area that they're teaching in. Again, we have great teachers out there and great schools all across the country. But we have to improve. And we have to do it today, and not wait until tomorrow.
What suggestions can you give me, as a parent with children that may want to grow up to be a teacher someday, how do we inspire our youngest people to want to be teachers someday? Is it pay, is it status, is it hard work, what kinds of things, you touched on this answer a little while ago. What kinds of things do we need to work with in terms of our young people to get them to be teachers?
Ms. Gates. All of the above of what you just mentioned. First, starting off with the money, you have to dress it up for them. There is a lot to ask of an individual to teach another individual. Like I stated earlier, for 18 years I was in the public schools without a degree doing on-the-job-training. I learned a lot. I did a lot. But I did not have a degree. So I don't look down to people who are operating in professions that don't carry a degree because I know that some things a degree, a piece of paper can't teach you so it did not make me less effective because I did not have a piece of paper. I know that I was very good at what I did. That's why I did it for so long and was so effective, and I thank God for the opportunity that I did have to help develop other people's children as well as my own.
You have to go out and recruit the same way coaches go out and recruit basketball players and football players. They make it interesting. And nine times out of ten, players go look for those coaches. So you’ve got a fix up, you’ve got to come up with a package where the teachers will come look for you and say, I want to be hired. I am the woman for the job. I am the man for the job. I can train those children. I can make a change at that school.' So I would suggest that first of all you would start off with money, second with status, give the teaching field back the respect that they are due. We have insulted teachers. We have insulted them with the pay. We have insulted them by confronting them with a deaf ear. These teachers have a voice. Listen to them. Hear them. Respect what they're saying. Help them. Whatever they're asking for, give it to them. If they don't come up with their part of the bargain, dismiss them. Start all over again. I guarantee you will get results.
Mr. Roemer. I appreciate all three of your helpful comments and only look forward to these young bright people here in the first row right over here to my right, to hopefully be some teachers someday as well too.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Mr. Roemer. Congressman Martinez.
Mr. Martinez. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know if we're trying to prove that public schools do not provide an adequate education for all students, no contest. You win. If we're trying to prove that there are people who want to send their children to private schools because they feel they'll get a better education and they'll be safer, you win. There are people like that, except that we as a national body have a responsibility to establish a national policy on how education affects all children, not just a few. Now like, Mr. Roemer, I'm for choice. I made a choice. My kids went from kindergarten, well they don't have kindergarten in parochial school, first grade through sixth grade in parochial school because I wanted to make sure they got a good basic education and I thought that parochial school in that particular district where I lived would do it. And it was close enough to the neighborhood. Now I was fortunate because I could afford the tuition and I could afford the uniforms, and I could afford all the other things that those schools require. And I knew too, my children wouldn't be disciplinary problems. Right?
Let me tell you about an incident that just happened here recently. There's a young man who’s a bright young man, I know him personally because he's the son of a, of a staffer in my district office. She's concerned about the neighborhood schools where her son would have gone to high school. And it's not a real great neighborhood. There's a lot of gang activity there; there's a lot of knives and guns and stuff like that around. And she's very protective of him. So she got him enrolled, way over in Camp Roberts. She has to drive a long way. Fortunately, because of the salary she makes with us, she can afford to send him there.
And the point I'm making here is sure, private schools in a lot of cases can do things a lot better than the public schools because the public schools are under a lot greater constraint for civil rights laws, for equal access laws, for all the other laws that we have that they have to adhere to. Private schools are open to do as they damn well please.
And this young man has only been enrolled there four months, and he found a cigarette lighter on the school grounds. And he carried it into class with him and he's sitting there, and he's bored with the class, and he takes the cigarette lighter out and starts flicking it. Now as it turns out the cigarette lighter didn't have any fluid in it. It had flint so that it would spark but it had no fluid in it, so it wouldn't light. The teacher in that class went ballistic when she saw him doing that. And the kid is expelled. No process, no hearing, no nothing. He's expelled. And when his mother tries to get recourse, they tell her, "No, it's our policy that if, if a teacher in a classroom wants a child expelled, he's expelled." And that's all there is to it.
So yes we get choice and we take that choice and a lot of times it doesn't work out exactly how we think it's going to work out. But that's not the point. The point is people should have choice. I had a choice. I made the choice. I don't think anything restricts that. There's nothing in law that says "If you want to send you kid"–other than economics, other than economics.
Now look, I'm going to get, have a heart-attack, ‘cause my staff, a heart-attack, because when I was sending my kids to private school, I was also paying tax to pay for public school but I wasn't getting no advantage of that–taking advantage of that. So at the time I felt, sure why don't I get a tax-break for that money I would spend for that private school? Well, even today there is no such law. And for a while I used to think about that. I would think, you know, we ought to introduce a law that gives a tax-break to those people that send their kids to private school. Because that way they would be able to do it and be a little bit more comfortable in their budget, being able to take a tax-break. But then I started to think, you know, if we do that and the tax pool is reduced, and as it is, we are stingy with school money–now, as Mr. Owens said, I think it was Mr. Owens who said, will spend all this money, billions, billions of dollars to bail-out, taxpayer dollars, to bail-out the IMF. Nobody here in this Congress since I've been here has ever suggested that kind of money for public schools, never. And I got to thinking, you know, public school is the basic education by which our children are educated. And then I got to thinking–I looked around and I asked this question several times, "How many of you are products of public school?"
There's a bunch of distinguished looking gentlemen here in the front row. How many of you are products of public schools? Raise your hand. You're a product of public school? You look quite successful, sir.
Both public and private? You did like with my children; I sent them early to private school and then they went on to public school? Do you find a disadvantage from that? Did you find a disadvantage from the public school?
Chairman Riggs. Do you want to bring him forward, Marty, and–
Chairman Riggs. I think he's accompanying people on the–
Mr. Martinez. Well, my point is, my point is, if public schools–let's say there are a lot of problems with public schools, and there has to be a lot of correction there. But let me tell you something that we always forget here. Public schools are run on a local level. We elect a school board, that school board tries to encourage parent participation. You've heard of PTA's. And still I think that you're right on. Even though we have PTA's and we ask the parents to get involved, we don't make them comfortable, not all of them. We develop little cliques, like, "Hey, this is a clique," and they're going to be influencing the public board of education. But it's the boards of education that sit there–and people that are elected to the board of education aren't always experts in education. They can be anybody that's of legal age to vote in the community. And they get on there and then they have to hire professional people like the superintendent of schools, and the superintendent of schools hires all the other people, and then the school board is supposed to develop policy.
But here's what happens. If the superintendent of schools has an agenda and he's a strong-willed person, and because the people on the board of education are lay-people, he soon convinces that board of education of the policies they should establish and how the school district is run. And if it's a lousy board of education like the one in Richmond who actually tried a lot of these experiments we're talking about here and passing into law for all of the children, and the school district went bankrupt. It went absolutely bankrupt. So that's the autonomy of public school boards and that's the autonomy of local districts to run the school district as they feel necessary on behalf of the parents of whose children they're educating, but the problem is that all the time the parents don't give that input and don't get, don't participate to the extent they should to let the school board know.
And I'll give you a good example, when the school board was doing screwy things in the Richard Garvey school district where my granddaughter was attending; my daughter went to school and demanded that they change their policies. And when they told her they weren't going to, and the school board chairman challenged her to run against him, if she wanted to change things, she did and she won and she changed things. And that's the option they have.
But the idea is that, you know, I, I would like to see some of these other things happen. And I would like to maybe somehow afford from a Federal level an opportunity for people to have choice, but not until we ensure that public school and every child is getting an adequate education. Because we have no business setting a policy for a few at great risk and damage to the rest, to the majority.
We talk in Washington, DC There are 78,000 that won't benefit from these vouchers. And we are ignoring them. We are ignoring them because we're not doing anything to create a great pool of money that will repair the roofs that need repairing, that will provide for adequate salaries for teachers, and adequate training for teachers. We're not doing anything about that in the mass majority. We're talking about a few, a small few. And I will join anybody in that attempt to benefit the small few, after we've taken care of the majority. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Riggs. Mr. Martinez. Congressman Payne, do you have questions for this panel of witnesses?
Mr. Payne. Thank you, very much. I did not hear the testimony so I, I won't ask questions, I just might make a very general statement that I am a product of the public school system in Newark, New Jersey, and actually taught in the public school system for about a decade in Newark, and I am a very big supporter of the public school system. I think the school systems have changed a great deal since I was a student and a teacher, but I am a firm believer in public school.
I also think people should have the right to choose. That's–I'm a pro-choice person. But I feel that if we are going to undermine the public school system by various gimmicks, I even have been one of those who wholeheartedly support charter schools, I think charter schools are simply a step to vouchers. Either we should have a public school that should be totally funded and make it work or we should not have a public school system. I think the thing that made this country great is that we've had traditionally a very good public school system throughout the country. The public school system has declined a great deal.
But in other areas, when things get tough–we wanted to go to the moon, we got to the moon; we wanted to have gasoline that, that didn't pollute as much, so we came up with unleaded gas; we want better televisions, so they got high-definition. Anything we want to do, it seems like we, we can achieve it. And so I think if the will is there to make the public school systems work right, that could be done also. I just don't think the will is there.
I think that it's–to look for example, in my state where charter schools have started, a charter school may have no more than 18 students in a classroom. Well, that's great for the 18. But as the charter schools grow and you have four or five in the town, we have three now and in other parts of my district, Jersey City, they have about four or five, as the number of charter schools go, in our state you pay 90 percent and you get 90 percent in a regular public school. Ten percent has to be raised by that, that school. But if you continually take these 18 per class and under only, then the average size of the public school class, which is already about 28 to 30, is going to go up to 32, 34 and higher. So it just doesn't add up.
Like I said, it adds up for, for the few who can get cross town to the charter schools, whose parents have transportation, the ones whose parents are motivated enough to know this, there is supposed to be a lottery system, I kind of question that. But I think that my, I guess, only plea is that we should somehow make public schools work.
I have a grandson that lives with me. My daughter and I sort of adopted a little baby at seven-days-old and so I take him to school. He's in the fifth grade. He goes to public school. The school is 125 years old, but we see that he gets an adequate education right in the Newark public school system. I certainly, I think, could afford to have him, in, in, in a non-public school, but I believe that the public schools can do a good job.
We're going to–we see that the school does what they're supposed to do. He plays on the basketball team. He's a top 3-point shooter but he also plays the violin. Because we told the school, they ought to have violin there. And if he wants to play basketball, he has to also play the violin. It's just one of my, my things since I buy the trophies for their team. So the, the, I guess in conclusion, I just think that we need to simply work harder at trying to make our public school system work.
Ms. Norton. The gentleman, would the gentleman yield for a moment?
Mr. Payne. Certainly.
Ms. Norton. Because the gentleman brings–I, I support, I support the, the Riggs-Roemer bill on charter schools.
Mr. Martinez. Yes.
Ms. Norton. And yet I hear what the gentleman is saying with respect to possible unintended and adverse effects the charter schools might have. I strongly support them because I do believe that parents, such as the parents who come here to testify, if told that there are no public school choices, while the public schools are being fixed, that the only choice they have is moving out of the District. Because there are too few parents in this world that have the kind of gumption that Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden have shown. Ms. Carson-Carr has testified here that she needs more of our parents in the public schools to have the kind of energy she has.
And I just might suggest to the gentleman and to Mr. Riggs and Mr. Roemer that as we go through the process of charter schools that some of the points that are being raised here might be taken into account. For example, if schools had a pupil-teacher ratio that they had to adhere to, which I think all of us agree is very important especially to disadvantaged kids, then we wouldn't be in competition [charter schools with public schools], and indeed it might even be necessary in some school districts to make sure charter schools are chartered at a rate that does not escalate the pupil-student ratio in the public schools. Still allow it to happen, but don't allow it to happen so precipitously that we set up a running battle among people. I think you all have put together an extraordinary coalition, and what you've done–
Mr. Roemer. Would the gentle-lady yield?
Ms. Norton. Yes, indeed it's the gentleman's time.
Mr. Payne. I'll, I'll yield my time.
Mr. Roemer. Would the gentleman yield? I appreciate the gentleman from New Jersey yielding. I would just like to say that we've rather focused on DC schools today, and sometimes overly negative. Schools need to get better in DC They need to get better all across the country. I want to brag about DC and the charter school, one of the charter schools that I visited here. It's one of the best charter schools I've visited in the Nation. That's the Options Charter School in DC The Options Charter School educates some of the most difficult young people to educate in the city. Mostly all of the students have dropped out of school, or have been thrown out of school. They're two to three years behind their peers in their age group. Most of them are all eligible for free and reduced lunch, yet they're graduating at a higher-rate than the DC public school system is graduating their students.
Now that's taking on an extraordinary challenge and doing it in an extraordinary way. And I want to applaud DC for that Options Charter School. We want to replicate that all around DC, and all around the country. And I don't care in some of those classrooms whether the teacher ratio is 1 to 2 or whether it's 1 to 12. If they are doing that good a job, I applaud that and we want to see ways to do that across the country, in New Jersey, Indiana, Chicago, and other places. And I yield back.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you gentleman and Ms. Norton. Ladies, I want to thank you very much for being here this morning. I particularly want to commend Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden for being leaders in your own right. As I said in my opening comments, you join with the, according to the Gallup Poll for Phi Delta Kappa International, you join with the 72 percent of African-American parents who believe in school choice, parental choice, including taxpayer-funded scholarships or vouchers for private school.
As I mentioned, 63 percent of Hispanic-American parents support that concept. So I'm reminded of the old saying, you know, "When the people lead, the leaders will follow." And I hope that's the case here in the District of Columbia and elsewhere across the country so we can truly have equal educational opportunity for every American child, regardless of race, color, or creed, but especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. I say it over, and over, and over, but I'm very convinced that we as a country cannot afford to lose another generation of urban school children. So ladies, Ms. Carson-Carr, thank you very much for being here, and we wish you good luck and God's speed.
I call forward our second panel of witnesses. Mr. Brian Bennett, Ms. Arlene Ackerman and Mr. Lawrence Callahan. At this point, I'm going to turn the Chair over to Congressman Souder and I'll rejoin the hearing shortly.
Mr. Souder. [Presiding] I want to thank you all for coming this afternoon and Mr. Brian Bennett, if you could start with your testimony.
STATEMENT OF BRIAN BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF SCHOOL OPERATIONS, SCHOOL FUTURES RESEARCH FOUNDATION
Mr. Bennett. Members of the Subcommittee, I think I speak for everybody who was seated in the audience and want to commend, as many of you've done, the parents who made very impassioned presentations this morning. Would that all of us were blessed with the kind of energy, enthusiasm, commitment and courage that has marked their path to this hearing this morning.
It is my pleasure to address you as the Director of School Operations for the School Futures Research Foundation. We are a 501(c)(3) non-profit located in San Diego, California, and dedicated to the following presumptions which I think are critical and which may flavor the rest of our, at least of my written testimony.
We believe very strongly as a Foundation that parents are the primary educators of their children. In this context, we believe that it is imperative that parents be able to exercise full and complete choice over the most significant decision that they may face and that is the choice of school for their child. We believe further that it is the obligation of every American to ensure the education of every American child. And therefore we are fully predisposed to support those choices and changes that may be necessary to allow for the education of all children in the public, including those who are in the public school.
We presume secondly that parents, especially low-income parents, and more particularly those that reside in America's urban core, should be afforded the same access to schools that their middle and upper class counterparts enjoy, be that charter school or schools of choice that may be funded privately or publicly. In this context, we believe that it is imperative that in addition to charter schools that options for public and private choice ought to be expanded.
We believe as well that parents are the single most important ingredient to student success at school. In this context, we believe that the true partnership the schools must have with parents exists in real terms when parents are free to enter the school which best meets their child's needs and free to leave if student achievement is not realized.
We believe as well that it is the business of schools to teach, to advance student growth each year by verifying that student grade level proficiency increases monthly for every month of instruction. In this context, every child, we believe, is entitled to a world-class education via a challenging standard-based curriculum, and for those least able to afford the enrichment which accelerates this premise, not only charter schools but opportunity scholarships [both public and private] must be in place. We believe that it is the business of schools to promote and graduate workplace ready students who possess the personal and technical skills that will allow them to see success on the job and in the community.
We believe that it is the business of local schools to effectively and efficiently utilize maximum resources; both human and fiscal, in order to maximize student academic achievement. In this context, strict financial accountability, particularly for those of us involved with the charter school effort should be insisted upon. Effective utilization of human resources, both teachers and staff, can only occur when artificial constraints on human resource capability are removed, namely the frequently overpowering strength of union management whose understood goal is membership growth and teacher protection, not necessarily student achievement.
Finally, we believe that operationally independent charters and educational opportunity scholarships are simply means to the same end, namely, the granting to parents, especially in low-income families, of the fiscal reality of their constitutional right, we believe, to choose the school that is best for their children. In this regard, we at the Foundation are currently involved in supporting individual charter school efforts in the Ravenswood School District in the East Palo Alto, California; and the Los Angeles Unified School District in Watts; and the San Diego Unified School District in Southeast San Diego, have been approved to open charter in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, and we are most pleased with our partnership with the Urban Family Institute here in Washington, DC to open five schools, we hope as many as possible of those by next September, 1998. It is our common goal in this effort here in the District to move from the elementary to the secondary level. At our schools, just to give you a flavor of what these will be about; they will be open from at least 6:30 in the morning until after 8:00 P.M. The basic school day will include core courses using internationally based standards identified, at least from our initial study, in the curriculum offered by Mr. Hirsch and the Core Knowledge Foundation. The school year will be longer. Electives will be offered beyond the school day and will emphasize tutorials and other programs. We view schools as the hub of the community and an anchor for community redevelopment, able to increase property values, attract investment dollars, and improve the tax base. Our agenda with respect to our partnership with the Institute here in the District of Columbia is quite clear and above board. We believe that we ought to put children first, academic achievement first, basic skills in a developmentally appropriate classroom first, families first, neighborhoods first, productive citizens first. We believe that every child can learn, that good teachers can teach and good principals can administer and better communities will result as a result of those partnerships. We would suggest for ongoing Subcommittee and full committee consideration, and on behalf of the entire Congress, a couple of points, which we believe, will make our challenge easier:
One, we believe that earmarked and targeted dollars for charter school start-ups that will assist in facility acquisition or leasing as well as refurbishment and improvement are absolutely critical. This guarantee we believe should begin at the Federal level and should be strictly adhered to at the state and local level. The same dollars per child that are invested in the traditional public school system ought to be expended dollar for dollar to those children whose parents have made the choice to move them to the charter schools.
Secondly, a guarantee that children whose parents choose a charter school will be able to ensure the same financial equity and this is particularly with respect to the Chapter 1 program. There is absolutely no reason why a public school student in a traditional public school whose person was counted in the previous year, and for whom an allotment of Federal dollars was extended to them, should be denied access to those same dollars simply because his or her parent made a choice to move into a charter school.
Let me conclude my remarks at this point by identifying what I would hope would be one example of the common ground that should exist in this debate to fundamentally improve and reform education for all children in this country. We believe that this is an issue in which liberals and conservatives, both Democrats and Republicans, will be able to see as a common ground. Liberals who are historically committed to a fundamental redistribution of wealth and the promotion of a more egalitarian social system, should see the philosophical justification of granting dollars and choice to families least able to afford the same choice that their upper-income suburban neighbors have. Conservatives should identify the wisdom of reducing government control of the most fundamental choice that parents have the ability to choose the school, while at the same time encouraging free-market competition and the supply of educational institutions. This may be the only issue on which all legislators ought to be able to agree to be pro-choice. For liberals this is one more battle for civil rights. For conservatives it is one step toward supply and demand in the free-market system. For both, this is a pro-family issue.
I would hope that the full content of our written remarks may be entered into the record and, as time permits, I will be happy to answer any questions that I can. Thank you.
SEE APPENDIX C – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF BRIAN BENNETT, DIRECTOR OF SCHOOL OPERATIONS, SCHOOL FUTURES RESEARCH FOUNDATION
Mr. Souder. With unanimous consent can we enter all witness' statements into the record? Hearing no objections, it will be done.
Next, it is an honor to have Ms. Ackerman here today on behalf of the DC public schools. If you could go ahead with your testimony.
STATEMENT OF ARLENE ACKERMAN, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Ms. Ackerman. Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee. Thank you for inviting me today to testify. As you mentioned, I am Arlene Ackerman, Deputy Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer for the District of Columbia public schools.
I understand that the topic of today's hearing is school choice in the District of Columbia. Currently, students do have the ability to choose among our DCPS schools or to attend several of our charter schools, and more will be added next year. I do firmly believe that all of our schools should meet the needs and the expectations of our families. And my goal is to make sure that the very–in the very near, near future that parents like Ms. Gates and Ms. Walden will be confident about our ability to educate their children well. So I want to talk today about the steps we're taking to reach this goal.
Less than 18 months ago, the current administration was put into place. The school system was broken in fundamental ways. More importantly, the expectations for student performance were low and accountability was lacking across the system. When I arrived at DCPS six months ago, I knew that the system was in a state of educational crisis. However, the results of the Spring, 1997 Stanford 9, and other performance data showed me that the crisis was even deeper than I expected. To me, the scores and the performance data were not, was not, were just, were not just disappointing, they were devastating and certainly unacceptable. I came though with a vision and a mission. A vision and a mission, which I hope, the entire DC community will embrace.
The vision is clear: to create an exemplary school system in this Nation's capital for the 77,000 students who depend on us to get the kind of education they will need for college, good jobs and for life in the twenty-first century. To make that vision a reality we must focus all of our energy on making dramatic improvement in the achievement of our students today in preparation for their world tomorrow. Clearly, success won't happen overnight. We know that. The community knows that. But we will make steady progress, year by year, classroom by classroom, school by school. And we've already started. We will succeed by reaching higher, with more challenging expectations for students, principals, teachers, administrators and parents.
We have already put in place more rigorous academic content and performance standards. We are ending social promotion, and requiring our students–have to–requiring that our students demonstrate basic skills before being promoted to the next grade. We will succeed by staying focused on results with regular assessments of our student achievement and annual evaluations of schools, principals, teachers and administrators. All of our students in grades 1 through 11 are now taking the challenging Stanford 9 achievement test in reading and math twice a year. We're developing school by school report cards, which will allow the community to have easy access to the data on student achievement, attendance and dropout rates. We're putting in place now student achievement, excuse me, Student Achievement Now Accounts for 50 percent of the annual evaluation of principals. And we're revising the teacher evaluations to be tied directly to student performance.
We will succeed by providing extra supports for students who are behind and additional professional development for teachers and other support staff. Our Summer STARS program which will require more than, which will be required for students at risk of non-promotion under our new guidelines will serve up to 20,000 students at a cost of $10 million. Additionally, all of our students, all of our schools are putting in place, and we're requiring that all of our schools put in place additional tutoring programs to be operated before and after school and on, on Saturdays. Additional assistance and extra staff and resources are going to targeted assistance school where student performance is especially low. Those students, those schools, which fail to meet performance targets, will be eligible for reconstitution. Our efforts to improve student achievement will require substantial new dollars for our budget. We have realigned this year our Fiscal 1998, 1998 Fiscal school year, our budget to reflect the urgency of our academic priorities. But we will still fall short on key programs, including the Summer, Summer STARS initiative which will cost, as I said, $10 million. We are working to identify funding sources for those programs because we know that we have no choice. There is a real urgency to this and we must implement these programs because our children simply can't wait any longer.
In the short term, what can parents and policy makers look for from us? The good news is that there are pockets of excellence all over this city in this school system. In classrooms and schools there are students that are excelling. We are committed to replicating these successes and there is absolutely no reason that all of our schools can't excel. In the short term we promise to make steady progress. You will see, starting in June, higher test scores. You will see more effective teaching. We will provide more professional development for our teachers and the cost for just that will be an additional $2 million.
We will, we promise to set real clear goals, the new academic standards should clarify for you what we want our students to know and be able to do at the different grade levels. We promise to be honest and to provide honest answers. We're committed to telling the truth even when it hurts. We have charged every school in this District with improving its test scores and its overall school performance. In the long-range, we have plans to take dramatic steps to improve our student achievement. We have plans to provide even more extended learning opportunities for our students. We want to develop academically rigorous after-school programs for middle-school students who often find themselves on the street between 3:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M., and the cost for this will be an additional $10 million. We are seriously considering the implementation of year-round schools patterned after the Japanese schools and other school districts in our country.
We are, if we truly intend to reach world-class standards, we must look beyond our border for new models that work. To prepare our children to succeed in today's global marketplace, I believe we must think globally ourselves.
In addition, long-range we are looking at enhancing our budget with teacher raises, additional support for our low performing schools, textbooks, updated textbooks and security to ensure that our students go to school in a safe and secure environment.
You may be surprised to hear that some people have said that we're trying to do too much, too fast. Others believe we are moving too slowly. Whatever the perspectives, however, I promise that we will make dramatic improvement. We will make dramatic progress, school by school, class by class and for every student. I thank you again for inviting me to testify today and I'm happy to respond to your questions.
SEE APPENDIX D – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF ARLENE ACKERMAN, DEPUTY SUPERINTENDENT, CHIEF ACADEMIC OFFICER, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Ackerman, and I want to apologize to you and to Mr. Bennett for being gone for part of your testimony. I was just outside and I was able to hear the complete testimony because we've got an intercom outside.
We now have a vote underway on the floor, Superintendent Callahan, so what I'd like to propose is that if you could go ahead and proceed with your testimony, then we will recess and return for some questions and answers. I realize that we have gone straight through the lunch hour and I'm sure by now, you're in need of a little nourishment as well. So what I'd like to do is, is go ahead with your statement now, Mr. Callahan, and then we'll recess and, and return and during that recess if you need to, to get some nourishment you'll have that opportunity.
Mr. Callahan, please.
STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE CALLAHAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, WASHINGTON, DC
Mr. Callahan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I was going to say that if you hear any groaning during the testimony, it's not because of the testimony, it's my stomach.
Mr. Callahan. I am Lawrence S. Callahan, Superintendent of Catholic Schools for the Archdiocese of Washington. I thank all of you for inviting me to come before you today. Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, I come today not to offer a philosophical position on the issue of parental choice, but as the chief educational administrator of the Archdiocese of Washington, to describe who we are and what we provide in the area of elementary and secondary education in the District of Columbia and Maryland. This is where my expertise lies and how I can best serve the interests of this committee.
I represent a community of Catholic schools that includes 84 elementary schools, 17 secondary schools, three parish-based early childhood programs and two special programs in the geographic area that covers the District of Columbia, and the Maryland counties of Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's.
We serve more than 33,000 students and their families–representing a wide array of ethnic, cultural, religious, different family circumstances and economic background. They come to us from urban, suburban and rural communities–from affluent households in Potomac, from farms in St. Mary's County and from tough neighborhoods in Washington's inner city.
In the 1996, 1997 school year, 40 percent of our elementary school students and 41 percent of our high school students represented minority populations. In addition, 24 percent of elementary students and 32 percent of our high school students were non-Catholic. In the District alone, 79 percent of our students were minority and 54 percent were non-Catholic.
We embrace all of them with a commitment to provide the best education we can with the resources available.
These schools are served by a professional staff of nine people in the Archdiocesan Catholic Schools Office. This is possible, because we are able to rely on the capable leadership and cooperation of administrators on the school level. Indeed, we actively involve principals in policy and decision-making, and teachers in the development of curriculum guidelines for all of our various academic disciplines.
Our curriculum is based on a philosophy of education that espouses developmentally appropriate practices, inclusion, integration of subject matter, current assessment product–practices, an emphasis on critical thinking and high academic standards. We believe that all children can succeed and our teachers work with them so that they can.
We set high standards for our schools and insist that all adhere to Archdiocesan policy and guidelines regarding religious education and formation of our students. We require our schools to become accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.
Our schools tend to employ–enjoy high levels of parent involvement and support.
The average tuition rate in a Catholic elementary school is $2,131.40, while the average cost per student is $2,814.92.
We are proud of the fact that our schools provide a safe, drug and violence-free atmosphere. It is an environment in which discipline is enforced, while all forms of corporal punishment are forbidden.
We are likewise proud of the 17 Catholic high schools in the Archdiocese of Washington. At the conclusion of the 1996 school year, a remarkable 98 percent of our graduates were headed for college. This high level of passage into college includes those schools serving high numbers of minority students–such as Archbishop Carroll High school in the District of Columbia which serves approximately 700 students, virtually all of whom are minority, and about 60 percent of whom are non-Catholic.
Our Catholic schools have seen six straight years of enrollment growth, and many schools have waiting lists in certain grade levels. We have opened two new parish elementary schools since 1964–1994, the first to open in this Archdiocese in three decades. Three schools have major expansions completed or in progress to increase greatly their capacity.
The religious education of our students involves instruction and formation in faith and values, regular prayer and religious observance, and an educational environment consistent with these ideals. I am proud of the fact that many Catholic elementary and high school students participate in programs of human service to help the poor, the elderly and others in need.
I am happy to report that our Catholic schools have made significant strides in expanding the student body it serves. The Archdiocese now awards approximately $1.8 million in tuition assistance, making it possible for more people of limited means to attend Catholic schools. This is in addition to the support provided by our own, our own parishes and schools themselves. We have worked successfully to make our schools more inclusive of students with learning disabilities, and anticipate significant progress in this effort in the years ahead.
The greatest concern for us is our center-city Catholic schools, sixteen of those, all of those, which play a vital role in the District of Columbia. In 1996-1997, these schools served a population of 3,422 students, 99.5 percent of whom were minority, and 67 percent of whom were non-Catholic.
In January of 1997, James, Cardinal Hickey, our Archbishop of Washington announced a plan called Faith in the City to strengthen center-city schools and to enhance services to the children of the District. This program was designed as a bold alternative to closing schools and consolidating finances.
As Cardinal Hickey said when announcing the Faith in the City project: "I will not abandon the city of Washington in its time of need. While there is often good reason for closing schools, I prefer to invest new resources and launch creative programs to ensure a happy and successful future for DC Catholic schools and the families they serve."
The Cardinal goes on to say: "Catholic schools are just too important to the District of Columbia. They provide an atmosphere of safety, order and caring for the children they serve. In this environment, effective learning can occur, faith can be shared, positive values imparted, and parents supported in the raising of their children."
Faith in the City includes initiatives to enhance Catholic identity: procure the financial, material and personal support of individuals and groups; increase professional development opportunities for teachers and administrators; ensure success for teachers [sic] at-risk, improve facilities, create two specialized schools for students that have a special interest that will focus on science and technology and enhance services to the Latino community.
Faith in the City is bringing renewed life and spirit into these schools. These school communities now enjoy increased professional development opportunities for students and teachers, new levels of support from local Catholic colleges, enhanced administrative and financial procedures and new services to students.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, let me conclude by emphasizing that we are eager to serve more of the District's children in the spaces available in Catholic schools in the District of Columbia and its nearest Maryland neighbors. We estimate that as many as 2,000 spaces can be made available.
In any event, we intend to continue providing a quality service to our parishioners and to the citizens of our Nation's capital. Thank you very much.
SEE APPENDIX E – WRITTEN STATEMENT OF LAWRENCE CALLAHAN, SUPERINTENDENT OF CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, WASHINGTON, DC
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Superintendent and as your saying goes it really does sound like Catholic schools are the good news in education today. I thank all of our witnesses. The Subcommittee stands in recess and will reconvene at 1:30.
Chairman Riggs. We'll reconvene the hearing, and I hope I am joined shortly by more of my colleagues. We're going to be on a bit of a tight timeline trying to conclude the hearing at 2:00 P.M., or just prior, especially since we have detained our second round of witnesses so long this morning.
Let Ms. Ackerman get settled in.
Superintendent Callahan, in your testimony, I believe, you indicated that the schools that you oversee, the parochial or Catholic schools you oversee, that they are ethnically and racially as diverse, if not more so, than the public schools in the surrounding area?
Mr. Callahan. Mr. Chairman, I haven't made any comparisons of the public schools, but I know that our schools are, certainly, diverse in its population. I'm not sure how it compares to the public schools. I don't know their statistics.
Chairman Riggs. I think that would be a point, of perhaps, would merit a little further investigation. It’s my sense that that is probably the case. Ms. Ackerman, I'd like to ask you, specifically, are you opposed–because I didn't hear this in your testimony–are you opposed to the concept of parental choice either through the Washington Scholarship Fund of the use of taxpayer-funded scholarships, such as we're discussing with the Armey bill, and if so, why are you opposed, and what affect do you think that greater or enhanced parental choice would have on the District of Columbia Public Schools?
Ms. Ackerman. Well, I'd like to say that the District of Columbia does not have a position on this legislation, and, although we do have some concerns, we're responsible for educating all of the children in the school system. And, our position is that we don't want to distract our attention from getting that job done.
Last year, the DC Appropriations bill was not approved by our Congressman until almost six weeks into the fiscal year. And, in part, because of the controversy surrounding the issue of vouchers for DC It's extremely difficult for us to run a school district and to operate it under these circumstances. So, I am concerned about, and I think as a representative of the DC public schools, any proposal that might have the affect of diverting funds away from our primary mission.
Chairman Riggs. May I just ask you then, Ms. Ackerman, do you have a position on enhanced public school choice, either through open enrollment–I don't know if the District of Columbia Public Schools–
Ms. Ackerman. We do have open enrollment.
Chairman Riggs. You offer open enrollment to parents?
Ms. Ackerman. I do believe in parental choice, and that parents need to have the options available for them within the public schools. And, I'm committed to increasing the opportunity for those parents to have choices within our system.
Chairman Riggs. Does that mean that you, personally, in the administration of the DCPS are embracing the idea of public school choice to the creation of more charter schools like the charter schools that Mr. Bennett discussed in his testimony?
Ms. Ackerman. We do support charter schools.
Chairman Riggs. Do you think it is fair, just on that point–I've heard certain of my colleagues raise question about the Marcus Garvey School, and I'd just like to get clear on the record here today, do you think it is fair to typify or characterize charter schools in the District of Columbia by the experience of the Marcus Garvey School?
Ms. Ackerman. I have recently arrived in DC so I am trying to catch up on the Marcus Garvey controversy. I do know that it's probably not fair to judge any one school, I mean, the whole system by any one school, be it charter schools or be it, you know, the public school system. I think you heard me talk about the fact that all of our schools–I mean, we want all our schools to be excellent schools and I wouldn't want the whole system to–for people to believe that the whole system–have negative attention drawn to the District. Because we have some schools, and some who, certainly, aren't up to the standards that we know that they can be.
Chairman Riggs. Now, let me ask you. Do you offer or do you contract for special education services with private schools?
Ms. Ackerman. We do.
Chairman Riggs. And, Superintendent Callahan, do you accept the schools that you oversee the schools, do they accept taxpayer funding for the purposes of compensatory or remedial education?
Mr. Callahan. We do participate in the title programs and we work very close with the District of Columbia Public School administration and their support of that.
Mr. Riggs. Yes. Do you see the dichotomy? I mean, there's such a thin line. The statement you just made and Ms. Ackerman's acknowledgement that public schools in the District of Columbia contract with private schools to provide special education services to learning disabled or special needs children. It seems to me that the line the opponents of school vouchers try to draw is very, very narrow, if, indeed, it evens exists.
Ms. Ackerman. Around special ed., I'd like to say that, you know, that most of those contracted services are court-mandated, and that's the difference.
Chairman Riggs. Well, they're court-mandated, but would you be able to offer them within your current framework? I mean, are you in a position to offer–
Ms. Ackerman. I think we could. There are some circumstances related to the 50-day rule. I think we could, certainly. Give us the same consideration that we give the surrounding school districts, 120-days. I think that we could, because we could then use those dollars to provide the programs.
I think that no other district in this country has a 50-day rule for assessing students and placing them into special ed.
Chairman Riggs. I think that's fair, but we'd have to go back and have a separate hearing on just the circumstances leading up to the court mandate or the court decree under the Federal legislation, but we won't note that.
Mr. Bennett would you delineate again, for us, the differences between the surpasses that your charter schools intend to offer parents and students versus those services that are currently offered by the District of Columbia Public Schools?
Mr. Bennett. Certainly. For the first, and probably the most important issue confronting parents, is the availability, adequacy, and competency of both before-and-after school care programs. Those are built into the charter petition that was submitted and approved by the elected school board.
In addition to that, our students will be in class for a longer period of time during the day. The core day for them will be 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
Chairman Riggs. Could you just quantify for us what that difference will mean over the course of the school year? So you're saying I'll see a longer school day but that may mean a longer year?
Mr. Bennett. And a longer school year. The model that we will execute against this is the same that we're using in the other charter schools that we are partnering with. In the first year, between 197 and 205 days. And then we hope to be billed out to 220 days. So, students will be present not only for longer periods of time during the day, but for a greater number of days. By the way, we might note just parenthetically, that that means absolutely nothing unless what they're doing during the day, and for those extra days, translates directly into student improvement in test scores. And, we are, obviously, very committed to that.
Chairman Riggs. That's your bottom line. What do you estimate will be your cost for people to educate these young people?
Mr. Bennett. In order to deliver on a program based on the needs assessment that we have identified, let me say that, if–and I'm a English major and not a Math major, but if someone gave me $9,176 instead of any other amount, I'll bet you that we could do more with the same as the traditional public school systems has. At the present time, we know that we will be receiving less.
In a perfect world, and it is the function of this Subcommittee to create that over time in a perfect world we would have access to the same dollars per child as the traditional public school system has. There ought to be, from our perspective, a full granting of permission to contract services back with the District. If they can provide services, that its cost is competitive in the market, then they should have the right to offer those services.
We should certainly have the right, in the interests of parents and students in the charter school, to be able to get as many dollars into the classroom as possible. As a consequence it will be far less, we assume, in the range of perhaps $6,500, or so, per child.
Chairman Riggs. Do you project that you will have the same percentage of children with special needs or learning disabilities?
Mr. Bennett. Absolutely. We are bound by precisely the same entrance standards as the traditional public schools were. Full compliance with the particulars for the American With Disabilities Act. Full particulars for compliance with the Individuals for Disabilities and Education Act. Full compliance with respect to the absence of discrimination in all of the program offerings, as well as, the admission–which I might say, based on our research study, both here in the District as well as in other parts of the country, fairly expresses the position of the majority of the non-public schools.
Chairman Riggs. Superintendent Callahan, I think, you testified that your actual cost per pupil of educating the students in your charge exceeds the amount that you charge parents, that there's a slight difference, is that correct?
Mr. Callahan. There’s a difference between the actual cost and the tuition that we charge. The difference is made up by the parish, the local school, or any kind of tuition assistance they may receive from the archdiocese.
Chairman Riggs. And you say that given your present plan, your physical facilities, that you can accommodate an additional 2,000 students?
Mr. Callahan. Excuse me, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Riggs. I'm sorry, go ahead. That's all right. Please proceed.
Mr. Callahan. The 2,000 students would include spaces that would become available in the District of Columbia, as well as the nearby areas surrounding the District of Columbia, such as nearby Prince George’s County or Montgomery County.
Chairman Riggs. But that would not include northern Virginia?
Mr. Callahan. It would not. That would be the diocese of Arlington.
Chairman Riggs. So, do you have any idea how many positions are, you know, classroom vacancies, you might say, would be available in those schools?
Mr. Callahan. I do not, with certainty, have that kind of information. I know they're building many new schools in the diocese of Arlington because of the great need for them, but I'm not sure that they have a lot of space available.
Ms. Ackerman. Mr. Chairman, could I make a comment?
Chairman Riggs. Please.
Ms. Ackerman. By law, the charter schools will get the same amount of dollars that we do in DCPS per child. But the other thing that I wanted to correct was the 9176 number. You said that you used the average daily attendance, and if we look at what the other school districts, including the District of Columbia, surrounding school districts use, we use the enrollment figures. And, if we use those figures, that's where we're getting around $7,000 per child. And, so that changes the way we look at things. And, if you look at that, well then, the other surrounding school districts for the most part, pay more per child for their children. So just using, comparing apples to apples that figure there gives an incorrect picture of what's really happening in DC schools. So, I wanted to make that clear for you.
Chairman Riggs. I appreciate that, but when you make that comparison to neighboring school districts, which ones are you citing?
Ms. Ackerman. Alexandria City, Arlington, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Montgomery County, Howard County, Prince George County. In fact, Prince George County is the one school district that really pays less per child than the District of Columbia Public Schools.
Chairman Riggs. So you're testifying that all those other–
Ms. Ackerman. Prince William. I'm sorry.
Chairman Riggs. Prince William County. And you're testifying that all of the other counties, actually, spend more per pupil than the District of Columbia.
Ms. Ackerman. Of the ones that I named to you, the ones that named to you, were, are near the bottom.
Chairman Riggs. I see. Mr. Bennett, you had an additional comment.
Mr. Bennett. Yes. I want to encourage Ms. Ackerman to continue to be of support to the charter school's futures and the Urban Family Institute and all the charters. Let me just identify, I think, two points that perhaps Ms. Ackerman and I can together do battle for.
The first, is the absence of direct dollars with reference to equity per student in regards to facilities. If we were a new, traditional public school coming online, we would have a facility to move into. Being a charter school, a public charter school coming online, we have to purchase facilities or lease facilities. Now, the difference between what may be allotted per child in a traditional public school in terms of the construction costs alone, in comparison to the cost figures, not only to move into school properties that the District has–they're no longer being used as schools–and then, in addition to that, cover the costs of renovation, improvement, and code compliance, as well as, roof repair. My sense is that discrepancy exists.
The second point I would make is relative equity with reference to inclusion for Federal program dollars, until we eliminate what appears to be a discretionary ruling on the part of someone who ought to come forward and claim credit in defendant, we still have no idea why, under the Federal Chapter I Program, students most in need in communities that we are serving, not only here in the District, but in Watts, and East Palo Alto, San Diego, Richmond, Fresno, Oakland, Sacramento, it is the same answer that we are coming up with. If a parent has the child in a public school in year one, of that child's entry into the school, they are able to take advantage of those programs.
If you are in a startup charter school, you are barred from receiving those. That is an absolute fact that I hope Ms. Ackerman and I can work together to overcome, because that is a reality that impacts our ability to provide quality education to children in, historically, underserved and underachieved urban environments.
Chairman Riggs. And the legislation that Mr. Roemer and I are co-sponsoring, which has passed the House with a very strong bipartisan vote seeks to redress that problem. So, I appreciate it. And I also want to understand, Mr. Bennett, that you are looking at the facilities that have been declared surplus by the District of Columbia as the best opportunity to house your charter schools.
Mr. Bennett. Yes, that is correct.
Chairman Riggs. Okay, Ms. Norton.
Ms. Norton. Thank you. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
First, I would like to, personally, thank all three of you for your work in very different ways. But, in ways that are very important to the residents of the District, to its officials, and to me personally, for the children of the District of Columbia. Everybody has their role and function and I can't say enough about how well you are performing yours.
Ms. Ackerman, I really do have to congratulate you on your running start because I know what you found when you came here, and I know–I want to thank you for the way in which you approached the two parents from the private schools to indicate that you're trying to build a school system that would not require parents like them to look for alternatives outside of that school system just to get a decent education for their children.
I particularly applaud the very high standards you are setting. When you can come here and testify that your goal next year is to get every child to read the equivalent of 25 books that year, you're talking my language. And, you're talking to a graduate of DC Public Schools who longs to see the kind of very high standards you are bringing.
Your own testimony says that 41 percent of the children were below basic, compared to 25 percent nationally. It seems to me the more appropriate comparison is between children in other big city schools. What percentage of children in other big city schools? I mean, what is the city that–the children in other big city's schools who have equivalent populations and demographics? The District stand are on such tests.
Ms. Ackerman. I'm sorry. You were asking me the question. I'm sorry.
Ms. Norton. Yes.
Ms. Ackerman. Well, we certainly fall–if you compare us with other urban school districts with similar kinds of issues, you will see similar results. And, that's not to say that we are proud of those results, but it says when you level the playing field and you look again at apples and apples, we're starting at the same place.
Ms. Norton. The only reason I bring that out, because I agree with your no-apologies approach to the District Public Schools, is that you have to understand that in this Congress the District has been made to look like the pariah school system, so that New York, Chicago, L.A., and all these places were doing, significantly, better than the District. That, of course, is not the case. Is it?
Ms. Ackerman. No.
Ms. Norton. Ms. Ackerman, if you had $7 million this year to spend, how would you spend it in the District of Columbia?
Ms. Ackerman. If I had $7 million, I'd spend it starting with our Summer Start Program to make sure that it is fully funded. I would then look at after-school extended opportunities for students to learn either after school, before school, and on Saturday. I would look at programs for, particularly, our middle-school students, so that they would have opportunities to learn from 3:30 P.M. to 6:30 P.M., because we know what happens to young people when they're out on the streets at that time. So, it would be a very academic, focused, extended learning program. But that's where I would, initially, look at placing the $7 million.
If it could extend, I would then look at, certainly, professional development for our teachers.
Ms. Norton. Summer school or, –I'm sorry–or year-round school?
Ms. Ackerman. Yes.
Ms. Norton. After school and what was–I'm sorry–one of them I think I missed.
Ms. Ackerman. I said extended opportunities for students to learn but, particularly, at the middle level, at the elementary and middle level.
Ms. Norton. Let me just–for these two that resonates so in this House, year-round schools are, virtually, unheard of–
Ms. Ackerman. Right.
Ms. Norton. –in this country. If the District of Columbia could salve a year-round school, I think you could bring the scores of these children up, literally, over night.
Ms. Ackerman. I'm positive that could happen.
Ms. Norton. After-school–testimony in this House has been that between the hours of 3:00 P.M. and 6:00 P.M. is when crimes are committed by juveniles. You could lower our crime rate overnight if we could give you $7 million to do this. And, I think, even if I went to my folks who might get these private scholarships for that tradeoff, they might even say they'd accept that tradeoff.
Mr. Callahan let me congratulate the archdiocese. First, let me thank you for the work that you're doing with the Washington Interface Network.
Mr. Callahan. Thank you.
Ms. Norton. For the record, the Washington Interface Network are a group of ministers and the arch diocese, the Episcopal diocese who have contributed millions of dollars to build private housing in the District. Here, the archdiocese is doing with housing what it has done over the decades with schools.
Let me thank you for the choice you give the children of the District of Columbia, and the parents of the District of Columbia because if you did not give that choice, not only would we lose what is called "choice" vaguely–let me be very concrete about it–we would lose more residents from the District of Columbia.
I want to also thank you, Mr. Callahan, because when I was going to the segregated schools of the District of Columbia from which I graduated, schools segregated by the Congress of the United States, the Catholic diocese was the first in this city to integrate the schools. So, the Catholic diocese has very special credibility with the non-Catholic who is your Congresswoman.
Let me ask you about what I understand was the position–well, first let me ask you about whether the Catholic schools in the District of Columbia operate under any civil rights provision that bars discrimination on account of race in the Catholic schools in the District of Columbia?
Mr. Callahan. We follow all the civil rights regulations.
Ms. Norton. Did you support and did you try to get such a section in the bill that is before us today?
Mr. Callahan. Did I try to–no, I–
Ms. Norton. Did the archdiocese–the representatives of the archdiocese support a provision in the bill before us today that would bar discrimination on the account of race?
Mr. Callahan. That would bar discrimination–
Ms. Norton. –on account of race.
Mr. Callahan. –on account of race. We're supportive of the position of the United States Bishops Conference.
Ms. Norton. Well, that is the position of the United States Bishop Conferences, is it not?
Mr. Callahan. It is.
Ms. Norton. In your schools, do children who are Catholic have a preference for acceptance in the schools of the archdiocese?
Mr. Callahan. In some of our parish schools and those would, particularly, in the counties, the parishioners or siblings would have priority because they are–we're funded, primarily, by the parish and so they would receive priority. In most of the schools in the District of Columbia, in fact all of the schools in the District of Columbia–I do not know any that gives priority to parishioners. They are all looked at equally.
Ms. Norton. So that if a Catholic child and a Protestant child came to apply, you would disregard the Catholic background of the Catholic child and look at them in terms of other criteria?
Mr. Callahan. Not in our parish schools in the county. We would not, because there's such a huge waiting list and so, but in the District–
Ms. Norton. I'm only concerned about the District.
Mr. Callahan. You're concerned about the District?
Ms. Norton. I'm saying a Catholic–we have some Catholic children in the District of Columbia, although, I have to tell you, Mr. Callahan, this Episcopalian tells you this is a Baptist town, nevertheless, I'm asking you if a Catholic child came to a Catholic school, such as St. Augustine, and a Protestant child came to a Catholic school, such as St. Augustine, whether or not the Protestant child and the Catholic child would stand equally or whether or not the Catholic child, because the child is a Catholic child, would receive preference based on the fact that she is a Catholic child from a Catholic family?
Mr. Callahan. My position would be that if there is one space available and there was a Catholic child and non-Catholic child, because it is a Catholic school, and schools were established to support the Catholic population, the Catholic would be given preference.
Ms. Norton. I expect no other answer and I think it is an honorable answer. If you were setting up a program like this, Mr. Callahan, would you set up a system whereby–do you believe that it would be necessary to set a up system whereby those who chose the children for the scholarships would be paid $5,000 when the scholarships themselves range between $2,400 and $3,200 or would you prefer that volunteers pass out the scholarships with any remainder of the money going to children to who get the scholarships.
Mr. Callahan. Congresswoman let me see if I understand your question. If our true costs or our tuition was, say $2,100, and a voucher was provided that was $3,200, what would happen with the additional monies? Is that your question?
Ms. Norton. That is not my question.
Mr. Callahan. Could you clarify that?
Ms. Norton. I'm asking you that if you were setting up a system to give out scholarships that range between $2,400 and $3,200, do you believe you could find people who are competent and dedicated to distribute those scholarships without paying them $5,000 to do so?
Mr. Callahan. I believe so.
Ms. Norton. Thank you.
Mr. Callahan. I think that there are many programs in affect now based on volunteers that provide that kind of assistance.
Ms. Norton. Thank you. One of the reasons that this–
Mr. Callahan. Thank you.
Ms. Norton. One of the reasons that this plan disturbs some of us is because, even though these are children from the District of Columbia, nine names would come from lists provided by the Speaker of the House who is my good friend and who has helped us, but for whom nobody in the District can vote. Nine names would come from names provided by the Majority Leader of the House, who is my good friend, and who has also helped me, but whom nobody in the District can vote for. And then one person, one name would come from the one elected official whom everybody can vote for and that's the Mayor of the District of Columbia. You can imagine that some of my folks think there must be a way, if your going to set up a program to give out scholarships, that you could do so finding people in the District of Columbia who would be willing to do so for nothing, much less for $5,000.
Chairman Riggs. Ms. Norton, let me just interrupt you just for a moment just to say that we are down, I think, now to about three minutes on the vote. I wanted to conclude by 2:00 P.M.
Ms. Norton. Could I ask unanimous consent to place into the record the document improving school achievement from Dr. Ackerman and her document on informing students how to take the Stanford Nine tests and what they need to prepare those students? And, could I ask one final question of Mr. Bennett–
Chairman Riggs. Without objection, so ordered. And, yes, but please make it very short because I'm going to have to rush to the floor, here.
SEE APPENDIX F – ARTICLES SUBMITTED FOR THE RECORD BY MS. NORTON
Ms. Norton. Representative Payne offered a criticism that I don't–that I consider worthy that unrattles charter school proliferation and could have an affect on pupil-student ratio and other unintended affects. Do you believe that there are actions that could be taken by charter school proponents to guard against such unintended affects?
Mr. Bennett. Yes, I think that they should simply adopt the practices and procedures that we, and other charter schools, supporters, partners, and providers have. And, that is to be absolutely certain that we respect the right of parents to choose, in this case, from amongst the options that are available in the public school. Taking students out of one school classroom to have them in another school classroom ought to be respected if the their parents believe that there are lower class sizes there. I think it serves as a justification for an expansion of charter schools, and for a continuing consideration of the wisdom of reducing student-teacher ratios across the board.
Ms. Norton. I think, Mr. Bennett, only your last question, only your last answer is going to be persuasive when it comes to people in the public school system in that–because I strongly support charter schools. I think its very important that you begin to think through the possible unintended affects so that we can have a–I think there are answers here, but I don't the answers are simply let the people take teacher-ratio go up. I think you then have to become real advocates of that and, I think, you have to become advocates for, making sure the pace of charter school chartering is not such that you create a backlash of parents who now support it, who then will begin something, which is a very innovative and important approach to education.
Mr. Bennett. I appreciate that. Just for clarification purposes, if there are 50 students in a potential classroom situation, and if 18 of them should move to a charter school because the parents exercise the choice, leaving–and correct me please if my math is incorrect–but 32 students remaining in the public school classroom, that certainly is preferable to a 50-to-1 ratio and addresses, further, the issue as to whether or not we ought to look at 20 instead of 18. Or from a charter school perspective, we would simply open up a second charter school classroom at the same grade. That does not take dollars from the traditional public school system since those 50 kids would have to have been taught someplace in the public school system to begin with.
Ms. Norton. Yes, if that in fact is the way it occurs, then, of course, that's what would happen. What was positive, by Representative Payne, is that it is not to be likely the way it occurs.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Chairman Riggs. Thank you, Ms. Norton. We very much appreciate your participation today.
With that, we thank our witnesses for their time and participation.
With that, the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Youth and Families stands adjourned.
[Whereupon, at 2:05 P.M., the Subcommittee adjourned subject to the call of the Chair]