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Government and People
|Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:
I am Dr. Joyce Ladner. I am a Member of the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority ("Authority"), and I am the Board Member with lead responsibility for public education in the District of Columbia. I appreciate the opportunity to testify on the D.C. Public Schools' student count.
For many years, the number of students who attend the District's public schools has been in question. The persistent questions and concerns about the student count were among the reasons the Authority took aggressive action to change the governance structure and management of the District of Columbia Public Schools. Our October 1996 report entitled, Children in Crisis: A Failure of the D.C. Public Schools, states "one of the most serious data problems is the lack of credible information on the number of students."
Having an accurate student count will contribute to restoring confidence and credibility in the management of the D.C. Public Schools. The Authority is committed to that goal and ensuring that the public schools achieve tangible improvements in the education of our children. As the public schools move to increase accountability at the local school level, the accuracy of the student count becomes even more important. At the urging of the Authority, the D.C. Public Schools are moving toward the development of school based budgets, which will identify the staffing and resource requirements of each local school. The student count will be used to determine the equitable allocation of resources to that local school. If the schools cannot substantiate those numbers, then the local school may not obtain the appropriate allocation of resources needed to support the programs aimed at improving the educational achievement of students.
As the Authority and others have reported previously, the District of Columbia Public Schools need to improve the methodology used to count the number of students who attend school. The General Accounting Office, the District of Columbia Auditor, and independent sources have raised questions concerning the accuracy of the count and have identified specific problems which raised doubts about the accuracy of previously conducted counts. The problems with previously conducted counts have included the number of non-tuition- paying students living outside the District, the uncertainty about lack of oversight by the central administration over local schools' counting procedures, uncertainty about the way information is collected, controlled, and recorded in the Student Information System ("SIS"), and controls over the handling of transfer and returning student records. Although the schools have made changes to the enrollment count process, weaknesses in the student count process still remain. For example, the schools have not identified the number of students who live outside the District, attend District schools, and who do not pay tuition. Nor have they improved the methodology for tracking transfer and returning students. The independent audit will ensure that continuous progress is made in improving the student count procedures and determining the accuracy and reliability of the student count.
Questions about the accuracy and reliability of student count information led to the passage of the "District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995" ("Act"). The Act requires that, no later than October 15 of each year, the schools must calculate the number of students, including non-resident students, enrolled in each grade from kindergarten through grade 12 in public schools and public charter schools, and enrolled in pre-school, pre-kindergarten, and adult education, and the amount of tuition assessed and currently collected from non-resident students attending D.C. Public Schools. The Act also requires that the schools submit, not later than October 15th, a summary of the most recent enrollment calculations to the Authority, the Mayor, the Council of the District of Columbia, the Census Commission, the Comptroller General of the United States, and the appropriate congressional committees. The Act requires the schools to arrange with the Authority to conduct an independent audit of the initial calculations. The independent audit must include an opinion as to the accuracy of the information, and an identification of any material weaknesses in the systems, procedures, or methodology used in determining the number of students and in assessing and collecting fees and tuition from non-resident students.
The Authority is required, not later than 45 days, or as soon thereafter as is practicable, after the date on which the Authority receives the initial annual report from the schools, to submit the independent audit to the schools, the Mayor, the Council of the District of Columbia, and the appropriate congressional committees. The cost of the audit is to be borne by the schools.
Authority Compliance with Statutory Requirements
Although the Act required the report to be issued to the Authority by October 15th, the official enrollment count was not conducted until November 4, 1997, because the opening of the schools was delayed. The Authority received the enrollment report on December 15, 1997. On January 20th, 1998, the Authority issued a request for proposals for potential vendors to conduct the independent audit of the calculation of the student count. Unfortunately, the Authority only received one proposal, whose costs, in our opinion, were prohibitive.
The Authority, therefore, re-issued the request for proposals. The second request for proposals generated two responses. The two bids offered substantially different approaches to the request. The Authority sought the informal advice of the General Accounting Office. Based upon that advice, and our own analysis of the proposals, we asked each of the bidders for a best- and-final-offer to reflect an agreed upon approach to conducting the independent audit. The Authority evaluated those proposals and recently awarded the contract. The independent audit is expected to be completed by May 1, 1 998.
The Authority expects that the independent audit will assist the schools to improve the student count process for the 1998-1999 school year and to increase the degree of reliance that you and the community can on the count in making resource allocation decisions. The Authority is committed to ensuring that any weaknesses identified by the independent audit will be corrected.
Recommended Improvement in the Student Count
In addition to the independent audit, the Authority will recommend that the D.C. Public Schools conduct two student counts during the 1998-1999 school year, one in the fall, when school opens for the fall semester, and one in the beginning of the spring semester. Many school districts, in fact, conduct more than one student count. Two student enrollment counts, conducted during the school year, will provide a better basis for ensuring the accuracy of the student counts and restoring public confidence in the calculation of D.C. Public Schools of student enrollment. The two student counts will also provide more timely, accurate and reliable student information for use in program planning and resource allocation. The first count will be used to make any resource adjustments resulting in changes in the student number since the spring count. The spring count, to be conducted in January, will be used to develop the budget assumptions for the development and adoption of the school budget for the subsequent fiscal year. When the D.C. Public Schools conducts two student counts, the Authority will recommend that the Act be amended to require an independent audit after the second student count is conducted. The independent audit will serve as a final check and monitoring tool over the student count process. The proposed increase in the number of student counts will greatly increase the reliability of the student count numbers and it will address the concerns about the accuracy of the student count.
The Authority appreciates the opportunity to report on our efforts to meet the requirements of the Act. This concludes my written testimony. I will be happy to respond to any questions that the Subcommittee wishes to ask.
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