Testimony of Erika Harrell, Executive Director, ElectED DC, Before the D.C. Council’s Committee of the Whole

B25-342, “Public Charter School Board Term Clarification Amendment Act of 2023”

PR25-300, “Public Charter School Board Carisa Stanley Beatty Confirmation Resolution of 2023”

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Good Afternoon Chairman Mendelson, staff, and members of the Committee on the Whole, 

My name is Erika Harrell. I am the Executive Director of ElectED DC. 

ElectED DC is an East of the River-based nonprofit organization focused on engaging community members to build political power; increase representation of historically marginalized communities from Ward 7 and Ward 8; and advocate for policies that will enable every DC student and their families to elevate, live, and age in-place and not be subject to economic and social isolation. 

We believe that education can be a major avenue to economic stability and empowerment.  For too long, children who live in low-income areas, regardless of their potential, face several barriers to quality education before they reach the schoolyard.  Almost 60% of students living in Ward 7 and Ward 8 attend a public charter school and many of them travel outside of their community to receive the education that meets their and their parents’ needs. The current absenteeism challenges the education sector is facing, along with the citywide public safety crisis, means Ward 7 and Ward 8 students who are furthest from viable, generation-stabilizing opportunities, must overcome exceptional hurdles just to get the education that every student deserves.   

Based on ElectED DC’s most recent polling, there is a strong desire for East of the River school options to be improved — 55% say not enough are currently considered high quality. Most voters also say schools need strengthening to provide pathways to gainful employment and financial stability.  Just 30% of respondents said they would be willing to send their own child to a school in Ward 7 or Ward 8. School safety and college preparation are highlighted as the top reasons for that low confidence. 

Going forward, we urge the Council to hold the Public Charter School Board accountable for ensuring equitable access to quality schools within Ward 7 and Ward 8 neighborhoods; and advocate for investments in our East of the River communities and schools.  

We look forward to continuing to work together on our shared priorities of creating economic empowerment through a strong public education system for all students, regardless of zip code.  Thank you for your partnership in that work and your leadership for all District residents.