April 2016 Newsletter

School budget news–More $$$,but less staff for many schools; Murch and Fillmore funding in jeopardy, “Assessing-out” proposal withdrawn, Data/research on DC schools conference draws large audience… More…
The Mayor’s city budget includes a funding increase for public schools of $75 million, which covers additional per student funds for increased enrollment and a 2% inflation adjustment (which is typical, though it was not provided to schools last year). This should have left schools with roughly the same staffing levels and funds as they had last year–and with the resources for increased staffing to handle increased enrollment.
In fact, many schools in Ward 3 and around the city report that despite these increases they must cut their teaching staff. Wilson high school is set to lose 7 positions; various elementary schools appear as though they will lose the equivalent of one or more direct service positions (i.e. classroom teacher, intervention specialist etc.) To see overall budgets from each school, use this data tool from Coalition for DC Schools.

An analysis released by the Coalition 4 DC Schools explains why there is more money but less “buying power”: First, the costs of almost all positions (principal, teacher, etc.) rose a small amount (which is indeed the kind of cost the inflation adjustment should be covering); Second, DCPS “has shifted certain costs that had not been carried on school budgets to school budgets.” In other words, schools must now pay from their regular budgets the cost of programs that previously had been funded by DCPS central office funds. This makes sense in terms of budget transparency, as it becomes easier to see exactly what is being spent in different schools. And insofar as the program cost is sent to the school along with the funding that DCPS previously used, there’s no harm to education. But, when formerly centralized programs are sent to the schools without funds, the result is that schools need to cut elsewhere.

Big reason is “unfunded mandate”
And that is the third and biggest reason that many schools have been left with less: a new, substantial unfunded mandate. As reported in the Washington Post earlier this year, DCPS has eliminated its Master Educator system, through which a good deal of teacher evaluation and teacher professional development was handled. Instead of the centrally funded ME’s, this year, existing school staff (mainly principals and assistant principals) will handle evaluation–taking these staff away from other duties–which must now be covered by other staff. Plus, most schools will be required to fund from their school budgets the costs of the new Teacher Leader Innovation program to provide the professional development previously provided by the Master Educators. In this analysis, DC schools budget pro Mary Levy estimates that the cost will be approx. $7m citywide, roughly equal to the new dollars that are not already dedicated to covering rising costs and the cost shifts explained above.
The result: It looks like increased funding for DC schools–but thanks to the shell game, many DC schools have less buying power.

Study shows that at-risk funds are being diverted to support core education
Two years ago, the DC City Council started appropriating special, additional funds to defray the costs required to provide a high quality education to the city’s most at-risk students. Known as “at-risk” funds, a new analysis from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute indicates that “unfortunately, there is a pattern of using significant portions of the allocated at-risk dollars for general education purposes, thereby merely supplanting general education dollars.” Among the inappropriate ways in which at risk dollars are being used: to pay for guidance counselors, teachers, and other core staff that should be funded through the general education funds.

Testify on School Budgets
On April 14, individuals and school leaders are invited to testify before the City Council’s Education Committee about the DCPS budget. For information and to sign up, click here. You must sign up 24 hours in advance to testify. If you testify, please consider raising the issues above, and noting that they effect schools in Ward 3 and around the city.

Fillmore Arts Center–“Stay of Execution” seems more rhetorical than real
At the 11th hour, literally as school budgets were being sent to schools, the schools that depend on the Fillmore Arts Center to provide arts education, were informed that Fillmore was being eliminated. The effected schools, including Stoddert and Key in Ward 3, would have to provide arts in their own schools. Huge problem: Neither Stoddert nor Key has any extra space in which to house adequate art classes! As importantly, Fillmore represents a phenomenal model of great arts education. I visited and was blown away by the extraordinary quality of its program. In a city where so many students still don’t get strong exposure to arts education, Fillmore shows what we should be reaching for–not what we should be eliminating. Under pressure, DCPS agreed to maintain Fillmore through next year and to undertake discussions about how to move forward.
But reports suggest that the Fillmore staff is already being dispersed, meaning that Fillmore’s arts program will already be much weaker next year, all but assuring that not only won’t students get the arts they need but that the program’s ability to replicate and provide a model will be lost. That would be a huge shame for DC. For more info on the program and on how to help, click here.

Murch funds in jeopardy again….
Murch Elementary has not been renovated for 85 years. Promises to renovate it were followed by repeated delays. Now, months after a modernization plan was finally agreed to by all the relevant parties and funding was allocated to build it, it turns out that the estimate for how much it would cost were wrong! The Murch community was told that no more funds would be forthcoming; it would have to downsize the original plan. Councilwoman Mary Cheh just led a discussion with all the key players–including leaders from Murch’s PTO and School Improvement Team, key officials from DCPS and the DGS (Department of Government Services) and the architect—to identify ways to bring down costs without losing essential components of the previously approved plan. For more info, click Murch Elementary

Update: Controversial “Assessing-out” regulation is pulled back. Yay!!
In previous newsletters, I alerted you to a proposed regulation that would open the door to widely enabling students to earn high school graduation credits by taking assessments rather than courses. OSSE Superintendent Hanseul Kang deserves great credit for withdrawing this proposal from consideration after hearing how much concern there was about it. Thanks to the many DC residents who filed comments with OSSE, signed petitions, spoke up at meetings and otherwise expressed to both OSSE and the State Board of Education the many reasons that this proposal caused great concern.

Strong attendance at conference to discuss need for better data/research on DC education
Last summer, the National Academy of Sciences issued an evaluation, requested by the DC City Council, on DC’s educational progress. The overwhelming finding of the report, as I wrote about in the Washington Post last summer, was that so much of the information necessary to conduct the evaluation was unavailable. The NAS couldn’t even report on whether achievement among the city’s most vulnerable children had improved. An ad hoc group of DC residents, including myself, has been meeting with city education leaders, including Council Education Chairman David Grosso and Deputy Mayor Jennifer Niles about strategies for resolving this unacceptable situation.
One step towards a solution was a half-day conference held at the end of March among interested stakeholders, convened by the Urban Institute. Big thanks to all the key education leaders in the city who attended and spoke—including Grosso, Niles, State superintendent Hanseul Kang, DCPS chancellor Kaya Henderson, and DC Public Charter School Board director Scott Pearson. The attendance was over 150—suggesting that interest in this issue is huge. I should note that the conference was held during spring break week, greatly lowering the number of parents who could attend.
Let’s hope this is the first step towards a solution, not just a conference that goes nowhere!

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