District taxpayers may have paid out more than $3 billion during the past five years for public education, including modernization of school buildings. But they will have to wait until 2014 to receive a complete assessment about whether all that money actually affected academic outcomes for the city's children.
The 2007 Public Education Reform Act had mandated annual evaluations. Further, a comprehensive five-year assessment was to have been completed Sept. 15, 2012.
But then-Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray inserted an amendment into the 2010 Budget Support Act moving that major evaluation to 2014.
Who knew? Education advocates and legislators I spoke with, including interim D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, said they didn't know the comprehensive assessment was moved to 2014 -- seven years after passage of the reform act.
During Gray's council tenure, budget support legislation appears to have been his hiding place of choice. Remember he and at-large Councilman Michael Brown in 2010 snuck in an amendment legalizing Internet gambling; thankfully that measure was repealed.
"It really looks like Vince pulled a fast one," said Peter MacPherson with the Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization, who received a letter from Attorney General Irvin Nathan confirming the change. The parent group has raised a litany of concerns about education reform and what they call destructive changes to academic programs implemented by DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
"I hope the council will reinstate the original law and conduct an evaluation before the end of the year," added MacPherson.
The delay of the comprehensive assessment might be tolerable, if annual evaluations had been conducted. They haven't, despite the requirement in the law.
Gray earmarked $325,000 in 2010 for the launch of those reviews. That money, taken from the DCPS budget and routed through the Office of the D.C. Auditor, was to pay the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences to serve as an independent evaluator.
NRC submitted one report in March 2011. That was merely the "plan" for conducting the evaluations -- not an actual assessment.
So, add another $325,000 to the amount of money spent with little or no accounting.
"It's not our contract; it's not our project," city Auditor Yolanda Branche told me last week, when I asked about the management of the NRC contract and why there hadn't been any evaluations as mandated.
"I honestly cannot say why nothing more than the [first] report has been done," said Jennifer Guste Leonard, chief of staff for the Deputy Mayor for Education De'Shawn Wright. She noted, however, that Wright and the auditor were "finalizing a scope of work" for a new contract that would be "consistent with what the law requires moving forward."
Ironically, the original law vested then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty with authority to effect the annual evaluations. But in a fit of pique over Fenty's delayed implementation of the assessments, Gray snatched back that responsibility, placing it under his Committee of the Whole.
Now, as mayor, Gray also has failed to provide an accounting as required.
Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.