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  • Carlotta Rother

Students Testify About Negative Consequences of Budget Cuts at DC Council Hearing


Students gathered to testify at the Council of the District of Columbia Building / Via @sww_hsa


Two key components of Walls are set to be cut: a yet-to-be determined language teacher, and the entire theater department. On February 29, the students at School Without Walls got the news that DCPS would cut the Walls budget by $235,210. Many students at SWW decided to fight against the budget cuts coming to the school, and so on April 4 around 25 student from Walls testified at the DC budget hearing.


Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that while the DCPS budget would be bigger than last year, many schools will still lose hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of inflation and the end of federal pandemic funds.


To adjust to the smaller budget, Walls will be forced to cut its theater department and one language teacher. While these two departments have the least enrollment, they have a huge impact on students and the Walls community.


Students attended the council’s budget hearing in an attempt to save the two departments. Over 40 total students from schools around DC testified both in person and virtually. School president Hugo Rosen (‘24) said that, “I initially heard about parents going to the budget meeting from the Local School Advisory Team [and] they recommended that some students should attend. From there, I found out the Sunrise Hub was also going to attend.”


Rosen worked with the Sunrise Hub, specifically Anna Mayer (‘25), to gather as many students as possible to testify. Rosen said, “Mayer was the one who was in direct communication with Chairman Phil Mendelson, she got all the students to go after one another and helped tie the Walls community together.”


Everyone had a different story to tell about how they would be impacted by the DCPS budget cuts. “There was a pretty diverse range in what people were talking about in their testimonies,” Mayer recalled. As the first speaker, she “gave a brief overview of why we were there and why it was important to us.”


Similarly, Rosen spoke last, “to wrap up what everyone had said into a clear message that the Council would listen to.”


Rosen made sure to use strong rhetoric to truly get the clear message across, “I called the new proposal an ‘injustice’... not just for Walls but for all of the DCPS schools.” Rosen said. He argued that “there is funding available elsewhere [in the DC budget], they just don’t believe [school funding] is important... We proved it was very, very critical to have these teachers in DCPS.”


Students shared personal anecdotes about their experiences in the theater and the Chinese department, rumored to be the most likely to be cut. Claire Campbell (‘25), who is currently taking Chinese IV, said “I talked about how the Chinese department at Walls has had a significant impact on who I am as a person, Ms. Song helped guide me to apply for a CIEE program in Taiwan which was an eye-opening experience and helped me realize that I definitely want to continue Chinese in college, but if the Chinese department gets cut my plans to continue Chinese next year and in college will be taken away.”


Speaking on behalf of many members of the drama department, Addis Getachew (‘27) testified that, “the drama club gave me one of my favorite communities, and my friend group in the drama club gives me a sense of belonging.”


Other members of drama club including Jett Morad-McCoy (‘26) furthered this argument in their testimony, saying that “the theater gives the students a chance to truly express their creativity, and if they are not participating in the production, support their classmates and have a fun break from their rigorous course-

work.”


She also focused on the impact of teachers “time and time again it is the teachers who take initiative and influence their students’ learning.” The teachers at DCPS have had a profound impact on their students at Walls, as Maia Riggs (‘25) stated, because they build relationships with students, know what matters to students, and take initiative to help students.


While the department cuts were the main focus of this budget hearing for School Without Walls, students also talked about other budget-related issues. The Sunrise Movement at Walls had already been planning to attend

the budget hearing prior to the Mayor’s new proposed budget. Thus, when attending the budget hearing a lot of the members touched on the issues that the budget cut would have in regards to sustainability in schools. Maia Riggs (‘25) stated in her testimony that “these budget cuts have implications for our ability to pass legislation surrounding the Green New Deal for Schools, such as sustainable curriculum.


The Sunrise Hub continues to advocate for more sustainability throughout DCPS and Mayer said that, “we need to do anything we can do to show the city how much we care about schools and how unwilling we are to sacrifice our education because of money problems.”


Evie Corr (‘25), vice president of the Health Justice Club, focused on how Walls does not have a full-time nurse. She said that “nurses are crucial for the support of students with chronic illnesses, but aside from that nurses can help students with their physical and emotional well being, offer guidance on healthy habits and be a trusted adult to turn to in times of need.” As of now, Walls only has a nurse three days a week, and most DCPS schools only have a nurse at school once a week. This is because of a “cluster” system that DCPS has implemented, and this means that nurses float throughout multiple schools in a week, making it much harder to build connections.


Campbell further mentioned the nurse shortage in her testimony, saying “one of my close friends got sick at school, and when there was no one to turn to she ended up staying in class. Later that night she ended up in the ER which could have been prevented had there been a full-time nurse in her school.” Both Corr and Campbell made clear to the council that this is an urgent issue that needs to be addressed.


Despite the overwhelming support for the teacher and programs at risk, an alternative budget has yet to materialize. Rosen and the LSAT met with an advisor for Ward 2 Councilmember Brooke Pinto, who said that a change might be possible through a budget amendment in June.


The budget hearing proved the overwhelming strength of the School Without Walls community as students from all grade levels students presented their arguments as a united front. Education is not just about the numbers on a budget sheet, it is about investing in the students’ futures, and cutting the school’ budget by 9.41% is something the students will not stand for.

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