D.C. Council considers 7 school reform bills

The D.C. Council is considering new legislation to overhaul the District’s schools. It’s a package of seven bills said to be the most significant changes proposed for DCPS since the 2007 mayoral takeover of schools.

Councilmember David Catania says his seven school reform bills are the culmination of months of conversations with principals across the District.

“This isn’t what I think they need,” Catania says. “This is focused and based on what they’ve told me they need to succeed.”

Catania’s legislation would boost per-pupil funding for poor children, increase outreach to parents, and consolidate the District’s school lottery system, including charter programs.

The legislation also allows DCPS to connect student grades to standardized test scores and gives principals more power to decide which underperforming student should be held back.

“Let me commend Mr. Catania,” says Marion Barry of the D.C. Council.

Barry, often an adversary, is supporting Catania’s effort, but Mayor Vincent Gray, who has not seen the legislation, argues 2007 education reform gave the mayor control of schools to streamline bureaucracy. He says deviating from that would be ill-advised.

“I believe we should do what we said we were going to do and leave education to professional educators,” Mayor Gray says.

Councilmember Tommy Wells, who is campaigning to replace Gray, agrees.

“Not sure if initiatives close the achievement gap, but you know, we have a schools chancellor whose job is to be sure that all of these things in there are addressed and I want to be sure we’re not just substituting the School Board with the D.C. Council,” Wells says.

But others say fixing underperforming schools is the Council’s job.

“The Council is an equal branch of government… the mayor has a responsibility to do oversight over this effort,” says David Grosso.

Catania say he’s open to more input from his Council colleagues and possibly changes to the seven school reform bills. Hearings on the legislation could be scheduled before the Council’s summer recess.