As DC recovers, we must lay the groundwork for a reimagined, equitable school experience

Education Forward DC’s Managing Partner Bisi Oyedele delivered the following testimony to the Council of the District of Columbia’s Special Committee on COVID-19 Pandemic Recovery & Committee of the Whole at a hearing on the District’s Public Education System After the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Council of the District of Columbia. Thank you for the opportunity to speak before you today. My name is Bisi Oyedele and, in addition to being a resident of Ward 4 and parent of two public school students in the District, I am Managing Partner at Education Forward DC. Education Forward DC is a local grantmaking organization devoted to accelerating the work of our city’s education leaders to foster a system of high-quality, equitable public schools for every DC student and family.  

Over the past fourteen months, I have seen students, teachers, school leaders, and caregivers respond resiliently in the face of the unprecedented challenges posed by COVID-19 and the public health emergency. As a former teacher and school leader, I recognize the incredible flexibility educators have shown in nimbly building new systems and structures to continue the essential work of educating our city’s learners. In my role managing our portfolio of Schools and Talent grantees for Ed Forward DC, I have seen firsthand the dedication it has taken to meet the needs of our students during the most challenging academic year in generations. 

Even before the pandemic, data and feedback indicated that DC schools are not serving all students well. The students furthest from opportunity too often lack equitable access to the high-quality school experiences that meet their needs. Pervasive and systemic racism is embedded into the very fabric of our current educational structures and practices and lead to disparate educational experiences and outcomes for Black and Brown students. And it was these students who have disproportionately shouldered the academic and social disruptions caused by the switch to remote learning. Furthermore, families continue to feel unheard and left out of the decision-making process. 

We at Ed Forward DC want every DC student to thrive in life, with the opportunities to make the educational, career, and family choices to be happy and successful. Building an education system that prepares students for this long-term vision means DC cannot simply recover from the pandemic’s impacts. We cannot simply return to the trajectory we were on before March 2020 but, instead, must begin laying the groundwork for a reimagined school experience to support students’ holistic needs and expands access to those opportunities for the students furthest from opportunity. 

As we shift from response to recovery, I want to ensure Council knows what funding and supports it will take to reimagine our public schools and ensure that they emerge from the pandemic ready to serve all students more equitably and justly and with higher-quality instruction. To address these concerns, we call on the Mayor and Council to emphasize the following: 

  • Full transparency regarding the more than $600 million the District will be allocated for K-12 education through Federal stimulus dollars, 
  • Increased support for school leaders in making data-informed decisions – particularly for increasing racial equity for black and brown students,  
  • Unified citywide school growth planning to unite public and public charter schools with their communities to map a more purposeful future that ensures every student has access to rich learning experiences, and 
  • Embedded and intentional commitment to engaging parents, guardians, and families as coequals in the process of planning spending.  

Finally, through our work as part of the Strongest Year Yet Coalition, we urge the Council to build on the mayor’s proposed increase for the uniform per student funding formula, increasing it to at least 4 percent with further increases to the weights for our at-risk students, English learners, and students with disabilities. 

Many thanks again for this opportunity. I welcome any questions you may have.