Testimony of Rachel White Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action DC Council Committee of the Whole September 27, 2022

September 27, 2022
Person Testifying: Rachel White
Title: Senior Youth Policy Analyst, DC Action
Testimony Heard By: DC Council Committee of the Whole

Good morning Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. Thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee today. My name is Rachel White and I am DC Action’s Senior Youth Policy Analyst. 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 Youth Economic Justice and Housing Coalition, we advocate with youth and youth-serving organizations in the District of Columbia for policies, funding, and programs that expand access to comprehensive support and services that families and unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness need to successfully transition into stable and productive adulthood. We are also the home of DC KIDS COUNT, an online resource that tracks key indicators of child and youth well-being.

I am writing to testify in support of Bill 24-232: Student and Minors Access to Records and Transcripts (SMART) Act with amendments. In its current form the SMART ACT allows minors 16 and older to request and receive their educational records. We agree with the DC Girls Coalition assessment, that the current bill takes a key first step in ensuring that young people have access to their education documents, yet we are asking the council to take a step further in giving young people the authority to use those records to further their education, when their parents/guardians are unable to support them in this way.  We are asking that an amendment be made to this bill so that:

Students under the age of 18 in the District of Columbia, who for any reason need to access their school records in order to make decisions with these records, shall have access to them and shall have the authority to make decisions regarding their education such as transfers, enrollment, and any other institutional processes that ensure students’ right to education under the following circumstances:

  1. There is no engaged or responsive parent or guardian
  2. An identified parent or guardian is making a decision that is harmful to or counter to the student’s reasonable wishes
  3. An identified parent or guardian does not have the capacity to support a student in this way

This expansion will provide the most vulnerable young people with the opportunity to have some agency over decisions that impact their lives, especially those in difficult family circumstances, such as the 50+ unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness under 18 in the District. One way to prevent youth who are homeless from entering the adult homelessness system is by providing youth in the District a pathway to economic freedom in the form of educational access.