DC City Council
Health Public Oversight Hearing
“The Not-For-Profit Hospital Corporation”
Friday, October 25th at 11:00am
Elizabeth A. Davis, President
Washington Teachers’ Union, AFT Local 6
Good morning. I am Elizabeth Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union. The Washington Teacher’s Union represents more than 5,000 active and retired teachers. We are dedicated to social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia and to improving the quality of support, resources, compensation and working conditions for the public servants and proud teachers who educate our students. Many of our WTU members live and pay taxes in the District and have kids or family members that attend DC schools.
The core mission of the Washington Teachers Union is to raise the standards of the teaching profession by promoting conditions vital to effective services for all students. In spite of the dedication and best efforts of our teacher members, far too many students in the District of Columbia are stymied in reaching their full potential.
For too long we’ve measured the success of our school system and of our teachers on the achievement of our students, as measured by a single test. It’s time we stop and begin to look at – and confront – the challenges that our students and families face holistically. Children across our city, but primarily in low-income communities of color, contend with the consequences of under- or unemployment, crime and violence, homelessness, and a lifetime of economic privation and hardship. These conditions impact their academic achievement and are, in part, at the center of the immense achievement gaps that plague our city.
To be clear, the achievement gaps between white students and students of color in our city are severe and persistent. Although black and Hispanic students’ results improved at a slightly faster rate than those of their white peers citywide, that improvement is not enough and we are not doing enough to bridge the achievement chasm.
If we want all students to succeed and we want to close our city’s deep and persistent achievement gaps, we must recognize that access to health care has an impact and we must proactively address access to health care across our city.
This past year, according to ABC News, more than 8,000 students in the District of Columbia were enrolled in school without the required vaccinations and without the legal paperwork that would exempt them from the law. We don’t have data on where these students live or attend school, but it’s likely they come from communities that are underserved. According to DC law, those kids shouldn't have been in class. We make exceptions to keep them in school and look the other way, ignoring the impacts that the lack of health care has on school attendance, participation in extra-curricular sports, and their overall physical and mental health. It’s time we serve these students.
I do not believe that we should force students out of our schools under a “No Shots, No School” policy. We need to ensure they have access to the health care they need. Access matters and it impacts student achievement.
Poor health can cause educational setbacks and interfere with schooling. Health conditions, disabilities, and unhealthy behaviors can all have an effect on educational outcomes. For example, children with asthma and other chronic illnesses may experience recurrent absences and difficulty concentrating in class. Disabilities can also affect school performance due to difficulties with vision, hearing, attention, behavior, absenteeism, or cognitive skills. Illness, poor nutrition, substance use and smoking, obesity, sleep disorders, mental health, asthma, poor vision, and inattention/hyperactivity have established links to school performance or attainment.
All communities should have access to a full-service hospital. Hospital operations in our most vulnerable communities have been constantly beset by management problems and medical mistakes, sometimes resulting in patient injury and death. It is time we do better as a city.
The Washington Teachers’ Union strongly believes that no child’s education should depend upon a student’s zip code or their success in a lottery. We need to invest to ensure that all students have access to a high-quality, by-right education in the District of Columbia, with the supports in their community that they need to succeed.
It is with a sense of urgency that I ask the DC Council to work to better understand who these 8,000 students who lack health care documentation are and ensure that we reform our systems to give them access to the care they need. That begins by ensuring all communities have access to a full service hospital.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today.