DC Appleseed staff members headed to the Wilson Building this week to testify before the D.C. Council on several issues related to our work. Among the requests for Fiscal Year 2016 were dedication of coordination and resources for workforce development and adult education, effective organization of the legal services offices in the District, and increased support for students in special education and their families.
Upgrading the Workforce Development System with a Focus on Career Pathways
On Monday, Policy Analyst Amber Rieke testified before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs chaired by Councilmember Vincent Orange. Ms. Rieke spoke about the important work ahead of the District government – including the Council, the Department of Employment Services (DOES), and the Workforce Investment Council (WIC) – to implement the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA), and better align workforce programs with each other and with the needs of employers. The majority of WIOA provisions are effective July of this year, and more rigorous performance measures to take effect July 2016.
Because this year is critical to developing structures and services to meet WIOA’s new performance measures, DC Appleseed asked the Council to: (1) empower the WIC to coordinate change and innovation; (2) ensure a culture of performance and accountability throughout the workforce system by requiring shared planning; and (3) utilize existing data systems and create new data capacity to coordinate and track performance across agencies.
Ms. Rieke outlined how close collaboration and additional resources in the FY16 budget were necessary to support WIOA implementation. Specifically, the WIC must fill several vacant positions within the WIC and the Adult Career Pathways Taskforce. And as it did last year, DC Appleseed is recommending the development of a Career Pathways Innovation Fund to upgrade programming and establish capacity for effective career pathways services; $500,000 should be dedicated in for technical assistance, evaluation design, and development of an RFP that could be fund grants next year to plan, pilot, and scale up programs and practices. We also submitted testimony on Thursday to the same committee on the role of the new Office of the Deputy Mayor on Greater Economic Opportunity in this system change.
We believe that the District’s workforce system must invest strategically in our lower-skilled residents and better target the needs of District employers to take the workforce system to a higher level. We were pleased that many other advocates echoed these requests, and that Councilmember Orange and his colleagues on the committee were receptive to our suggestions.
Managing a New Legal Services Landscape in District Government
On Wednesday, Executive Director Walter Smith testified to the Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie, regarding the organization of the District’s legal services following the election of the D.C. Attorney General.
Mr. Smith testified that the Council should be guided by five principles: (1) the structure should result in delivery of legal services in the most effective and efficient way that serves the public interest; (2) the electorate, in voting to amend the Charter to make the Attorney General an elected position, envisioned no change to the Attorney General’s core duties and authority; (3) the electorate similarly envisioned no change to the Mayor’s duties; (4) any changes made now to either the Attorney General’s or the Mayor’s duties need to be clearly justified and shown to be consistent with the Charter amendment referendum; and (5) cooperation between the Mayor and the Attorney General should be fostered.
Based on these principles, Mr. Smith recommended that the Council make no change to the Attorney General’s existing duties unless there is a compelling reason to do so. This includes leaving legal review of contracts, legislation, and regulations with the Attorney General, and returning control of agency counsel to that office. At the same, the Council must preserve the Mayor’s responsibility to be chief executive by making no change to the legal effect of the Attorney General’s opinions. Currently, they are the guiding statement of law for D.C. officials, but the Mayor and Council may disagree.
We are pleased that Councilmember McDuffie, the Attorney General, and the Mayor have indicated that they want to work together on developing an agreeable proposal. And we hope to be able to play a constructive role in those efforts.
Providing Responsive Support to Families of Students in Special Education
Today, Deputy Director Judy Berman presented testimony to Councilmember David Grosso’s Committee on Education regarding the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and State Board of Education. Ms. Berman’s remarks focused on talk about service gaps DC Appleseed has identified in their latest research on the special education system.
Ms. Berman asked the Council to include resources in the budget to address a unique challenge for students with special needs who are transitioned to non-public schools temporarily or for the duration of their education when their needs cannot be appropriately met in public schools. Their Local Education Agency (LEA) – either DCPS or the charter school – remains responsible for the provision of their services. But in the District, there are over 60 LEAs. There is currently a lack of a formal mechanism to facilitate transitions of special education students among LEAs – for example, when a student “ages out: of their charter school. The best practice is to actively provide education and support to parents. Navigating school choice in the District is difficult enough; adding in the need to identify schools with the capacity to fulfill their needs, as well as problem-solve, communicate, and adapt to changing needs, is a huge burden for parents of students with disabilities. This is a service gap that needs to be filled.
We initially identified the Office of the Student Advocate (OSA) as the proper location for providing both of these services. Unfortunately, the OSA is in its infancy and, with no executive director in place to lead the overall organization, the State Board may not be well-positioned to take on these roles at this moment. We encouraged the Committee to consider whether there are aspects of filling this particular service gap that are appropriate and efficient to situate within OSSE in FY16, at least on an interim basis.
DC has a unique educational environment and needs to build structures to better support parents of students with disabilities in managing the challenges and opportunities of school choice. We appreciate Councilmember Grosso’s commitment to the needs of all Districts students and their families. We will continue to work with the committee on this issue, especially when our research is released in the upcoming year.