DC Council terminates Education Committee

Mary Harney

The DC Council has dissolved the Education Committee, a decision that has come under criticism from The Washington Teachers Union (WTU) and the Action Network. 

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and his staff defend the move, insisting that the committee, which had oversight of DCPS, hasn’t been eliminated. Rather, it has just transitioned into the Committee of the Whole, which he leads.   

“The Committee of the Whole continues to have jurisdiction,” Mendelson said during a virtual meet-up on January 11. “There’s really not that much new and different with regard to the council’s oversight of K through 12, DCPS to charter schools.” He also mentioned that David Grosso, the committee’s chairman, had retired. Grosso left office on January 2.
Lindsey Walters, a spokesperson for Mendelson, reiterated his argument that the Education Committee had not been scrapped. “For the past two years the Committee of the Whole held joint jurisdiction over Education,” Walters said. 

“Education-related legislation works the same way it did previously. If a Council member introduces education-related legislation, it would be referred to the Committee of the Whole where it would potentially have a hearing and then be voted out [or not] of the committee and moved to the legislative meeting either on the consent or non-consent agenda for a vote.”
Critics, including the WTU and the Action Network, point out that aside from the merits of the shift itself, it was carried out when the school system and its students remain locked down because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The WTU released a statement on the issue, “The Chairman of the Council has many important competing priorities and our education system and students need a committee chairperson who has as their top priority the administration of the Committee on Education and oversight of the associated agencies.” 

The Union also said, “It is a full-time job. And it is a job that needs a champion, an elected representative whose main priority is the investigation, oversight, and leadership of DC’s student’s needs. It is critical that this issue have the full attention of a member of the DC Council and a committed staff.”

The Action Network, a progressive advocacy group, outlines the problems with dissolving the education committee. Since we’re in a pandemic, “removing DC Council leadership, focus, and the resources [and] staffing that come with a standalone committee is the wrong move.”

“I had wanted it to be a standalone committee because I think it needs that kind of focus and attention,” Councilwoman Mary Chech said. She said about the new arrangement “it can work,” adding, “I hope that the chairman gets as much staff as he needs.”

As for the reaction of her constituents, Cheh said, “I think they were a little bit surprised.”

The issue doesn’t seem to be on the radar at Wilson, at least not yet. The PTSO doesn’t mention it on its page. WTU representative Rebecca Bradshaw-Smith, and social studies teacher  Matthew Burgoyne said they didn’t know enough about it to comment.