Testimony for the Record
D.C. Council Budget Hearing Committee of the Whole
May 12, 2017
Good afternoon, members of the DC Council,
Thank you for the opportunity to give testimony on the FY 2018 DC budget. We represent Janney Elementary School and would like to speak in regard to the DC Public Schools budget.
We applaud your commitment to quality education for all students across the city. Unfortunately, the current proposed budget significantly undercuts the ability of schools across the city to meet their commitment to high quality education for all. The proposed budget continues the steady decline of the foundational dollars and capital budget of the entire public school system throughout the past few years. We believe that in Washington, DC, currently a city with a large annual budgetary surplus, dollars spent on educating our children should not be falling.
Our children attend Janney Elementary. As many of you know, Janney is an outstanding community of learners built on a foundation of achievement, inquiry, equity, reflection, collaboration, and experimentation. Our students contribute to an atmosphere centered on inclusion, respect, and community. Our experienced staff leads students toward these high ideals by functioning as constant co-learners. We are successful, in part, because we are fully committed to our inclusion model. Under this model, all students, regardless of educational needs, are taught in the general education setting for as much of the day as possible, with the supports they need to be successful. This inclusion model, which is the DCPS vision for all of its schools, means that we need to have appropriate staff in place to serve 731 students with varying educational needs across 33 classrooms.
The FY 2018 budget puts this all at risk.
With the current FY 2018 proposal, Janney will have to cut two educational aides, which are critical positions in an inclusion model to support both classroom teachers and students. The constraints of the FY 2018 budget also eliminate the flexibility to use Non-Personnel Services (NPS) funds to support our highly successful inclusion model. Beyond this year, if current budgeting trends continue, our inclusion model will no longer be sustainable.
You can help DCPS to solve this problem for Janney Elementary and for all of the schools across the city that are trying to meet the diverse and sometimes significant educational needs of their community.
- We ask that the FY 2018 budget include an increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) of 3.5 percent, as recommended by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) in January of this year—an $18.6 million increase over current funding levels. Funding has not kept up with inflation and the rise in enrollment throughout the city. Although it may seem that DCPS has increased investments in sheer number of dollars allocated, the “real dollars” per student have been shrinking. This shortfall means that more often schools dip into other resources such as NPS funds and PTA funds (when available) to make up the difference, with schools regularly asking parents to provide basic supplies like paper towels and pencils. This “model” of school funding and reliance on other resources to make up the per student shortfall is completely unsustainable and threatens real progress across the city, including the successful inclusion model at Janney. A 3.5% increase would allow Janney to maintain its current model and would increase funds appropriately at other schools.
As part of any additional allocation, it is important that designated funds, such as those for at-risk needs, are used for their intended purpose, that is to supplement, not supplant, foundational funding, and that they flow directly to the schools. To that end, we ask that the Council demand that DCPS provide a public report detailing how additional funds will be allocated to the schools, and adjusted budgets for each school.
- Second, we ask that the Council require DCPS to begin working with school staff and administrators to rethink the Comprehensive Staffing Model. The staffing model does not realistically take into account the individual needs of schools. At Janney, for example, the CSM allocates four special education teachers to serve a total of 33 classrooms, which is unrealistic to adequately meet the educational needs of our students. To fully embrace our inclusion model, Janney dedicates nine special education staff to serve our students. In addition, the CSM has seemingly arbitrary adjustments in allocations that are detrimental to large schools. For example, one assistant principal is provided for every 400 students. Therefore a school of 400 and a school of 799, almost double in size, will be allocated only 1 AP. Schools with between 400 and 599 students receive 4.5 related arts teachers, yet a school with 600 students, only 1 student more, receives one more full-time related arts teacher (a total of 5.5 related arts teachers). The CSM undermines the ability of large schools to adequately meet the needs of all students. Janney is one of these schools. We urge you to hold DCPS accountable in developing a staffing model that takes into account the needs and size of schools, and provide budget allocations that allow all schools, and particularly large schools, to meet the basic educational needs of their students.
- Finally, we request that in upcoming years the budget process begin earlier, take into account individual needs of schools, and allow school communities and LSATs necessary time to do our jobs well. The current budget shortfall is not a one-time, circumstantial event. It is the continuation of flawed practices and methods in budgeting that need to be addressed as we move forward. Early in the process, a needs assessment should be conducted with schools that will allow the unique characteristics of schools, programs, and students to be thoughtfully planned for during the budget process. LSATs should be given initial budget allocations with sufficient time (2-3 weeks) to digest and provide input on the budget. DCPS should also provide schools with the flexibility to alter their budgets to better suit their needs. This flexibility has been reduced in recent years, moving schools towards a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
Please take the necessary steps to ensure that all DCPS schools receive funding that will allow all children to receive the services and programming they need to be successful, whether it is through the inclusion model at Janney or other successful models at different DCPS schools. Thank you again for your continued support of DC school children, and thank you for allowing us to testify today.
Sarah Gordon, Alecia Brinkerhoff, Suzanne Smalley
Janney Elementary LSAT and parent community