Volume 31 | March 2021
Addressing Education in the District
---- I want to thank everyone who has spent their time and energy advocating on behalf of a better public education system in the District of Columbia. It is only through this advocacy – from the support, and even the demand, made by so many individuals – that we will see, that we have a chance to see, change and improvement.
 ----With the recent Council reorganization for Council Period 24, a few have complained about the elimination of the former Committee on Education. The former Chair, David Grosso, did not run for re-election and so change had to occur. But for the past two years the Committee of the Whole has had joint jurisdiction over education. Throughout Council Period 23, all oversight hearings were jointly held, and bills were marked up by both. So the current structure with jurisdiction over all matters related to public education in the Committee of the Whole means the least change and most seamless transition.
----Education is the opportunity to overcome the disparities, inequalities, and many disadvantages that too many children are born into in our society. When we talk of equity, when we talk of social justice, in almost every instance a quality education would make a world of difference.
----My goal with education on the Council is to lead with oversight. We don’t need to look to new laws because legislation is not what is going to make a difference in the classroom. I believe the quality of teaching, quality of the school system, quality of every aspect inside our schools is what will make a difference.
----We know that the turnover rate among teachers and principals is higher in the District than it is, on average, in the nation. I want to look at why that is the case. The more stability we have in our schools, the better we build school communities.
---- I want to look at school climate – the attitude of the adults in a school toward their students. Do children come to school in the morning where they are encouraged to be their best? Where they are told they can make a difference and that they could be the next astronauts, the next neurosurgeons, the next Nobel Prize winners?

----I want to make sure there are adequate supports in place for at-risk students. Are we doing everything we can to help kids learn at grade level? And kids who have reading disabilities, are we doing everything we can to diagnose that early and make a difference?
----We know that social-emotional supports are critical, particularly for students who come to school from an environment where trauma is present. I want to look at whether we are providing adequate – effective – support to address the needs of these students.
----With the current pandemic we have to confront that there has been a learning loss. I want to use our oversight authority to explore ways that public education in the District of Columbia will overcome the learning loss. And through this, we may actually learn lessons that will help us improve public education long after this pandemic ends.
----District schools may have seen modest improvements, but that’s not good enough and surely, we can’t rest on the limited achievements thus far. We have a chance to do better. Further, faster. That’s the challenge for all of us. Public Education is the opportunity for every child to grow up and achieve whatever, for them, is the American dream.
----It is quite possible that my colleagues have a number of bills in their mind, but I’m convinced that improving education is a function of the classroom. We don’t need to pass 30 new laws to suddenly get better teaching. But there is a role for robust oversight, and you will see plenty of that in Council Period 24.
-----Voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 71 on November 4, 2014. Even though it legalized the possession of marijuana for personal use, it did not address its sale or distribution. Congress immediately intervened to prohibit the District government from taking any further action. Consequently, for the past seven years the District has been in the ridiculous situation of not being able to touch the marijuana market. This has led to a flourishing “grey market” with no regulations in place to protect consumers or ensure order. “Pop Ups” suddenly appear, crowds convene. Individuals can buy, say, a flower vase for $50 and receive “free” cannabis. And sometimes robberies and other crimes occur.
-----On March 1st, I and eight other Councilmembers co-introduced Bill 24-118, the Comprehensive Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Act of 2021.  The Congressional prohibition still applies, but we are optimistic that it will be dropped later this year. We’ll be poised to act when that time comes.
-----This is not the first time legislation to regulate sale and distribution has been introduced, however, our bill puts a special focus on making sure that the market for sales is equitable for all residents. Specifically, it requires that 50% of licenses be set aside for social equity applicants (defined as residents who have been convicted previously of cannabis-related offenses or have lived in areas with high rates of poverty, unemployment, and cannabis-related arrests). 
-----Thirty percent of the tax revenue from cannabis sales will be deposited in an Equity & Opportunity Fund to provide loans, grants, and technical assistance to Social Equity applicants. Historically, one of the greatest challenges for small and new businesses is access to capital, and this is especially true for cannabis-related businesses because of federal law that restricts involvement by banks.
-----The bill also waives up to 75% of application and license fees for Social Equity applicants.
-----The set-aside of licenses coupled with the Equity & Opportunity Fund and fee waivers make it much more likely that large, out-of-town businesses will not be able to dominate our local market.
-----Additionally, 50% of the tax revenue from cannabis sales will be set aside for grants to community-based organizations serving the communities most impacted by the War on Drugs. These grants will be used to address issues such as economic development, homelessness prevention, support for returning citizens, and civil legal services in areas with high poverty, unemployment, and gun violence.
-----The bill also provides for the automatic expungement of cannabis-related arrests and convictions, and opportunities for re-sentencing of cannabis-related convictions. Since cannabis is legal, it makes sense to clear the record of past cannabis convictions.
-----The bill would create a 13% sales tax on cannabis sales at the point of purchase by the consumer. This is lower than most states that currently have legal cannabis markets. It is imperative that the District keep the tax from being so high as to incentivize a black market. Yet 90% of the tax revenues is redirected to the community or to provide opportunities for entrepreneurship to individuals most impacted by the War on Drugs.
-----Finally, the bill includes provisions to protect the supply of medical cannabis products for qualified patients. It also protects residents from adverse employment actions based solely on the legal possession and consumption of cannabis. It authorizes banks to conduct business with licensees (which is important given federal restrictions). It allows for local tax deductions for licensee business expenses. And it calls for a robust public education campaign to inform residents of the law and responsible use of cannabis products.
-----As soon as Congress lifts its prohibition, we’ll be ready to act – an important and critical step in finally implementing what the voters sought seven years ago with Initiative 71.

----A tax accountant contacted our office seeking help with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO). Seems she had a client – a small business, no less – that was anxious to pay its taxes. You would think this a simple matter that the OCFO would be eager to solve. But, alas, it wasn’t simple.
----The business is located out of town. Even though they had been registered in DC for years, it had had no DC income until recently. Still, they should have filed DC tax returns for all those years. To do this now, they would need a notice of non-filing from the OCFO which they would get in a few weeks by mail.
----Problem is, the business wanted to respond to a District government RFP, and to do this, they would need what is called a “Clean Hands Certificate” that no taxes are owed, and the deadline was sooner than “a few weeks.”
----Our office rose to the crisis. We found out who at the OCFO could process the small business’ tax returns. We then put the accountant and key OCFO personnel in touch with each other. Voila! Forms were exchanged, taxes were paid, and a Clean Hands Certificate was issued. Faster than “a few weeks.”
----If you ever find yourself taxed by the government in more ways than one, contact our cracker jack constituent services team. We’ll solve the problem quickly, with clean hands to boot!
Upcoming Hearings
of the Committee of the Whole
DCPS, OSSE, DME, DCPSB, State Board of Education,
Office of the Student Advocate, Ombudsman for Education
March 9, 2021
9 a.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

DCPS, OSSE, DME, DCPSB, State Board of Education,
Office of the Student Advocate, Ombudsman for Education, DCSAA
March 10, 2021
9 a.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

DC Auditor, Office of Budget & Planning, New Columbia Statehood Commission, DC Retirement Board,
Other Post-Employment Benefits Fund Advisory Committee
March 11, 2021
3 p.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments,
Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority
March 15, 2021
3 p.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

March 16, 2021
12 p.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

Commission on the Arts and Humanities,
University of the District of Columbia
March 17, 2021
3 p.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

MWAA, Office of Zoning, Office of Planning, DCRA
March 18, 2021
12 p.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

Public Hearing
District of Columbia Auditor’s Report: “Measuring What Matters: More and Better Data Needed to Improve DC Public Schools”
March 18, 2021
3 p.m. via Virtual Meeting Platform

For More Information on How to 'Attend' a Virtual Public Hearing & Meeting or to Testify for Public Hearings
email cow@dccouncil.us or call 202.724.8196
Fiscal Budget Schedule Changes

The Council has approved the Mayor’s request to delay her budget approval deadline by three weeks, with the hopes that federal COVID aid will be enacted by then, and can therefore be incorporated in her budget proposal at the time of submission.

See the New Timeline Below:
The majority of the Chairman's Staff has shifted to telework during this public health emergency. Should you need to contact them, use the following information: