Mayor Muriel Bowser invited a group of D.C. student journalists to an Inaugural Mayoral Roundtable on Feb. 2 to discuss important topics including D.C. statehood, the DCTAG Program, the future of education, DCPS’s new Chancellor Antwan Wilson, charter schools, coding, sanctuary cities and much more.
One of the first questions to spark interesting dialogue was posed from a student journalist representing School Without Walls who asked Mayor Bowser about how the District’s federally funded D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG) would be impacted in the event that the District of Columbia became a state. Today, more than 5,000 low and middle-income families rely on the DCTAG Program annually for educational opportunities outside of the District. Although it was never directly said, Mayor Bowser’s response seemed to imply a prioritization of statehood over the DCTAG Program. “I would suggest to you that I’m willing to pay $45 million for my self-determination,” she said, as she explained that $45 million is what the city spends to give D.C. students refunds of up to $10,000 per year to attend the public college or university of their choice.
Another major topic of discussion was the future of education in D.C. and the new White House administration. Mayor Bowser acknowledged that “people who like to experiment with education have sometimes looked to Washington, D.C. as a place to try things,” and with both the new DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson and new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos being seemingly pro-charter, there is concern that an increase in the number of charter schools would lead to a decrease in the money available for public schools. Bowser, however, expressed her content with the current balance between that of public schools and charter schools, while also voicing her optimism and hope that nothing would change or adversely impact that balance.
The mayor seemed hopeful about the implementation of classes devoted to teaching students about technology. She said that STEM classes (science, technology, engineering, and math) are supposed to be integrated into content areas throughout the DCPS curriculum, and that these subjects need to be taught equally alongside literacy and composition. Earlier this year, Bowser announced her plans to invest $6.2 million in middle and high school programming that will support additional extracurricular activities, STEM, and algebra courses as well as college and career programs. She also expressed her desire to expand the focus of coding outside of the classroom in hopes to make it more entertaining for students.
Here at Banneker, students are offered the opportunity to join a coding class taught by Marvin Spinner in room 305 on Fridays at 4p.m. The class is focused toward female students who have an interest in working at a tech company in the future.
Additionally, Bowser touched on the controversial topic of sanctuary cities. Sanctuary city is a term that is applied by some to cities in the United States or Canada that have policies designed to not persecute undocumented immigrants. Bowser explained the safety measures D.C. residents have with D.C. being a sanctuary city: “It means that no D.C. resident should be afraid because Washington is a safe and inclusive city. This status allows DC residents to get police or medical services or to enroll a child in school, without being asked for documents.”
Recently, residents have become worried about DC’s status as a sanctuary city because it could possibly affect our budget. In late January, the budget director of the DC Council, Jennifer Budoff, confirmed that the city is at risk of losing up to $1 billion in federal grants, including funding for homeless services, Medicaid, HIV/AIDS prevention, museums, programs for senior citizens, and public schools. This funding can be taken away because DC has yet to become a state, which would allow us to control our own budget.
When asked her opinions on the situation, Bowser acknowledged Congress’s ability, though they rarely use it, to interfere with the District’s budgets or legislation. “It is our position that the federal government not be concerned with local dollars because those are monies that we raise and spend,” Bowser said. “Those are monies that the mayor and the council decide how to spend according to D.C. values.”
The recent increase in popularity of the term “sanctuary city” comes from President Trump’s notorious comments made during his campaign run about illegal immigrants. His recent immigration policies have led many to become increasingly frightened of deportation, which has become much more of a reality in the last couple of months.
Mayor Bowser’s discussion helped to open up a channel of communication between her office and the city’s young journalists, while also providing crucial information on current events. When asked about the possibility of having another roundtable discussion, Bowser chuckled and replied, “it depends on how tough these questions are!”