Testimony of Matthew Hanson on Education Oversight

March 9, 2021
Person Testifying: Matthew Hanson
Title: Chief of Staff, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: Council of the District of Columbia
Type of Hearing: Performance Oversight Hearing on Education Public Witnesses

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee on the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Council today. My name is Matthew Hanson and I am DC Action’s Chief of Staff. At DC Action, we use research, data, and a racial equity lens to break down barriers that stand in the way of all kids reaching their full potential. Our collaborative advocacy initiatives bring the power of young people and all residents to raise their voices to create change. Through our DC Out-of-School Time Coalition we organize young people, their families, and the community organizations they rely on. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

For tens of thousands of youth, out-of-school time programs serve as a vital resource for building strong relationships that support their lifelong growth and development. These programs, along with other forms of social emotional learning and support, have become even more important during the pandemic as students and families have had to adapt to a virtual learning environment and deal with all types of loss.

When the pandemic hit last year, none of us knew what to expect. Throughout all of the chaos, hardship and uncertainty, OST programs have continued to do the work, offering high-quality, needed, and desired programming for students, both virtually, and safely in-person. Talk centered around “two weeks to flatten the curve,” yet here we are.  Families have continued to turn to OST programs to connect their children with academic support and tutoring, creative outlets, mentoring, and social and emotional support. Many programs have gone above and beyond by working to connect families to essential services, and serving as a lifeline to community and friends for young people who have struggled with social isolation.  As a result, we’ve heard families describe some of the programs we work with as “invaluable,” a “lifesaver,” “a safe space for students to process stressful situations,” helpful for mental health, and a space for “keeping [students] socially connected, hopeful, grounded and purposeful.”

Because families need and rely on OST, the lack of clear and effective communication from school officials with OST programs has been frustrating.  DC Action recently surveyed OST programs from across the District about their experiences during the pandemic and found that:

  • Over a quarter of programs that are connected to a school (29%) disagree or strongly disagree that “We have seen administrators and schools promote OST program opportunities to students and families.”
  • Almost two-thirds (62%) of programs that are connected to a school disagree or strongly disagree that “We have been updated about how and when schools plan to reopen, and when facilities will reopen for OST programs”

In our survey, programs noted their frustration around the unevenness and lack of consistency of communication from school officials, with one noting that “there is no clear coordination or mandate/suggestion to leverage external services.” Our coalition has worked to address some of these concerns by communicating them in public letters to the Deputy Mayor of Education, presenting to the Local Education Agency (LEA) leaders and sharing best practices and recommendations with all public and public charter school principals.  We still need a stronger message from the top that OST programs need to be directly engaged and better utilized.

We therefore encourage school officials to

  • Engage OST programs in their reopening plans, through their Reopening Corps or similar program or body
  • Invite OST programs to provide greater academic support for students as the majority of respondents whose programs that are connected with a school already do so
  • Actively promote existing OST resources to families and students
  • Actively work with OST programs so they can better understand school schedules and plug into scheduling gaps and opportunities
  • More clearly communicate when and under what circumstances programs might have access to school facilities

Finally, we appreciate the Mayor and the Council working together last year to protect OST programs, and holding funding relatively harmless. However, even “cost saving” cuts can have a big impact on small programs and cause a ripple effect. The demand for OST has consistently outstripped availability. If we want to build back better after the pandemic, we need to not only restore funding for these programs, but increase funding so every family has access to the high-quality programming they want and need. The pandemic has worsened education inequities and OST is vital to closing these divides.

We encourage the Mayor and the Council to strengthen program infrastructure and leverage the resources that we are able to mobilize for children and families. In addition to public funding OST programs receive, they also receive generous support from private philanthropy allowing those public dollars to go further. By failing to effectively engage the entire OST community, we have made virtual learning more challenging than it has needed to be.