Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) promoted advances in higher education in Washington, D.C., and defended her administration’s record in light of recent scandals at her fourth State of the District address March 15.
Bowser, a D.C. native currently running for a second mayoral term, touched on themes featured in last year’s address, including increased access to affordable housing, improving job security and, most prominently, ensuring the right to high-quality education for all children. The address was delivered at the University of the District of Columbia.
The speech comes shortly after two recent education-related scandals in her administration. The first concerns a federal investigation into inflated graduation rates, in which students at prominent D.C. high schools received diplomas despite frequent absences that violated D.C. policy.
The more recent scandal involved the forced resignation of former D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who allegedly used his position to enroll his daughter at a top-rated D.C. high school with more than 600 other students on the waitlist.
“We know there have been bumps in the roads — frankly, there have been some pretty significant bumps in the road,” Bowser said. “But now the Band-Aid has been ripped off, and we understand — better than ever — the challenges we face.”
Striking a more optimistic note, Bowser drew attention to the leadership under newly appointed interim DCPS Chancellor Amanda Alexander, promising that “we will finish this year strong and be ready to start the next one.”
The mayor emphasized the considerable progress that has been made in the District on education. While “students in D.C. struggled to keep up with their peers in other big cities” roughly 10 years ago, she said the system is now much better equipped to handle curricular challenges.
Bowser pointed to several specific programs aimed at improving D.C. public education. Thrive by Five DC, according to Bowser, will ensure the implementation of courses in algebra and robust programming in local middle schools. In addition, Bowser will oversee the UDC Equity Imperative, which will invest an extra $9.5 million in the University of the District of Columbia.
The mayor also focused on the distinct challenges that the District faces in national political developments, which often find D.C.’s local government at odds with the prevailing views of a Republican-controlled Congress and White House.
“Sometimes our challenges are unique because we get over-the-top requests, like the unnecessary military parade that some people want to have in our city,” Bowser said, referring to a proposal floated by President Donald Trump in February to hold a grand display of U.S. military forces in the streets of the District.
Referencing the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 dead, Bowser advocated the implementation of effective gun control measures and criticized Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for “continuing to push legislation in Congress that would gut our local laws by legalizing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and even allowing these guns in our schools.”
Rubio reintroduced a bill as recently as last January that would have gutted the city’s gun control measures.
“How — how can you be for legalizing assault weapons and lowering the age to buy guns in D.C. and be for school safety in Florida?” Bowser said. “With our partner on a Safer, Stronger D.C., Councilmember Charles Allen [D-Ward 6] and I say to Senator Rubio: Leave us alone and keep your hands off of D.C.”
Bowser later touched on other issues that the city continues to work on, such as maximizing employment and increasing access to affordable housing.
Addressing job creation, Bowser highlighted an initiative launched in the past week called the D.C. Infrastructure Academy. The academy aims to prepare D.C. residents for dependable jobs in infrastructure.
“The Infrastructure Academy is a pathway to the middle class — an opportunity not to just get a job, but to build a career. Because that’s what we want for Washingtonians — not odd jobs, not sometimes jobs, but sustainable careers,” Bowser said.
To improve D.C. living standards, the mayor pointed to the demolition of D.C. General Family Shelter, a homeless shelter that has been an “embarrassment” to the city, choosing to instead encourage permanent supportive housing programs.
“And at the end of the day, we know that the best way to end homelessness is by building and preserving affordable housing,” Bowser said. “This year alone, we allocated $1 billion — and I repeat, $1 billion — to programs and efforts that will make living in the District more affordable for everyone.”
Bowser also touted her Roots to Roofs initiative, an effort to connect black D.C. residents to available housing programs.
During the address, the mayor also remarked about the success of increased neighborhood safety by expanding the size of the Metropolitan Police Department cadet program from 70 to 100 cadets, improved access to quality and affordable medical care through the creation of a new hospital on the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital campus and the allocation of $178 million to improve the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
Bowser, at the speech’s conclusion, optimistically spoke about the city’s future.
“There is no doubt about it: D.C. is doing well. But, together, we are capable of so much more,” Bowser said. “So, let’s stay focused; let’s keep moving forward, because if we all stick together, the best is yet to come.”