The inaugural debate between candidates for DC’s At-Large Member of the State Board of Education (SBOE) took place Sept. 29 at 4:30 p.m. via Youtube live stream. Six candidates debated and discussed school funding, attendance policies, charter schools and the pandemic’s effect on daily operations.
Sponsored by the Office of Campaign Finance at the District of Columbia, the event was moderated by Washington Post education reporter Perry Stein and has received over 1,400 views.
The debate was one of a series of debates under the Fair Elections Program. That program, started in 2018, is a voluntary public financing program to support local political candidates in DC running for office.
The DC State Board of Education (SBOE) is composed of 9 elected members, one member from each of the District’s eight wards and one additional at-large member. Six candidates: Dorothy Douglas, Christopher Martin, Troy Murphy, Jacque Patterson, Dr. Ravi Perry, Mysiki Valentine are vying for the At-Large seat. The At-Large incumbent, Ashley MacLeay, is not running for reelection.
Two candidates supported placing a cap on the number of charter schools opening in the District. Mysiki Valentine spoke about his support of these ideas saying there is a great need for focus on funding the existing public schools.
“I am a firm believer that we need to strengthen our public education system,” Valentine said. “We’re seeing chronic underfunding of historical schools in ward 7 and ward 8 that are aligned with the Star system that we know, inherently, is racist. We need to ensure that there is equitable funding in our school buildings for all students.”
Dorthy Douglas, Chris Martin and Dr. Ravi Perry all said they would not support a cap on charter schools. Jaque Patterson said that a plan would need to be established before regulations are put in place.
“I think we shouldn’t do it until we take a needs assessment and establish a plan,” Patterson said. “I think the reason that we have areas of the city that are saturated with schools and then others that do not is because we do not have a comprehensive plan.”
Martin said that, from a parent perspective, the voting and lottery system for charter schools are popular among parents. He said that he believes parents vote through the lotteries. “The data are very robust to show what schools parents choose to send their children to,” he said. Instead, Martin said that the District needs to establish baseline funding for all of our schools so that principals don’t have to make the hard decisions of eliminating subjects or programs.
School Reopening During Pandemic
Candidates also weighed in on school re-opening in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, largely expressing concerns about an early return. Troy Murphy said he had reservations about opening given the increased number of cases reported in the District. He said it is important to follow guidance of public health experts rather than local officials.
“I have some reservations against opening immediately, I think we need more research to understand the parents’ needs and the students’ needs,” Murphy said. “We should make the decision based on what the health experts say rather than what the Mayor decides with her budget.”
Perry echoed Murphy and expressed concerns about the health and safety of students returning to school amid the pandemic.
“We are following the guidance of DC and we are still online,” Perry said. “Going in-person at this point is not in the best interest of everyone (and) I think the issue here is that people are apprehensive which suggests that there is a lack of trust in the Mayor’s decision making.”
Douglas agreed and emphasized the importance of considering things like mental health services for kids in addition to COVID-19 precautions when reopening schools.
“We must make sure that everything is in place and that all around services are available for our kids to be successful and to learn in a happy learning place,” Douglas said.
Police in Schools
Candidates disagreed, however, about the presence of police officers in schools. Valentine, Perry and Patterson spoke in favor of removing police from schools. Valentine spoke about his opposition to having police officers in schools citing his experience as an educator and idea of allocating funds to things like mental health services and bridging the technology divide to help students succeed in schools.
“In my ten plus years working in DC and east coast public schools, I’ve never had a situation where I’ve needed a police officer,” Valentine said. “In my day job working at the Fair Budget Coalition I was able to understand that there was 79 million dollars held up in contracts [between DCPS and police] that could have been used for [other things].”
Patterson echoed Valentine’s concerns and emphasized the importance of addressing the underlying causes behind violence rather than continuing to utilize police in the schools.
“We need violence interrupters, we need mental health practitioners and we need social workers [because] we’re not addressing the root cause of the issues that are happening in schools,” Patterson said. “We need to remove the cops and get to the root cause of what’s happening in our schools.”
However, some candidates spoke in favor of keeping officers in the District’s Public Schools. Murphy spoke about his experience as a student and emphasized that situations may arise that do require police intervention.
“I went to DC Public Schools and I know that security isn’t always equipped to deal with all of the issues that may happen,” Murphy said. “There’s lots of things that go on that may need the hand and (the) assistance of the actual police.”
Martin, who was in Connecticut during the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, said the event “shook him to the core” and emphasized the importance of keeping both students and teachers safe, and said policing done well could assist in doing so.
“I think there is a difference between policing and profiling,” Martin said. “Our teachers are scared of that type of violence and I think we need to protect our children and our teachers. It’s very different than actively policing and harassing people.”
If you missed the debate, you can watch the recording here.
Sarah Payne is a History and Neuroscience student at The University of Michigan interning with HillRag. She writes for and serves as an assistant news editor for Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.