Testimony of Stephen Kletter:
Testimony of Stephen Kletter – Committee of the Whole Public Hearing – January 20, 2022.
Good evening. My name is Stephen Kletter and I am a practicing economist who has lived and worked in the District for over 25 years. I have two children in DCPS schools. My youngest child attends Alice Deal Middle School.
While I really appreciate the spirit of proposed legislation, the problems with the current and proposed new budget models run much deeper—as I will describe—and cannot be fixed with broad legislation alone.
With 1,500 students, Alice Deal is by far the largest middle school in the city. It’s helpful to remember that Alice Deal is more than three times as large as the average DCPS middle school and more than double the size of the next largest middle school.
School size matters because the current CSM Budget Model used by DCPS underfunds large schools even after accounting for student needs. To its credit, DCPS itself explicitly recognized this problem in its Summer 2020 budget presentations. This flaw in the budget model underfunds Alice Deal by over $2 million per year and needs to be fixed in the new DCPS budget model.
The problem in the current CSM Budget Model lies in general education funds—referred to as “Enrollment” funds—given to each school which are not needs based. DCPS handles needs based funding through other specific funding programs (e.g., ELL spending, at-risk funding).
Under the “Enrollment” funding model, many key budget items do not increase with the size of the school – so big and small schools receive the exact same funding amount despite massive differences in size. Let’s consider just two examples:
• First, the “Middle School Investment” is a budget item that allocates 2 to 3 additional teachers to each Middle School. Any school over 350 students receives 3 teachers. Deal with 1,500 students receives the same number of additional teachers as a school with just 350 students. This single line item alone underfunds Deal by up to nine teachers.
• Second, each middle school regardless of size receives a fixed $100,000 for Social-Emotional support. That level of funding does not go far when you need to serve 1,500 students.
Some may argue that there are economies of scale in operating a school. And this is true but only for very small to mid-sized schools. In contrast, as schools get large, research studies show that these economies of scale kick in resulting in increased—not decreased—cost per student needed to maintain educational quality. As an academic study on school funding concluded:
In dealing with school size issues, educational decision-makers should avoid simplistic notions of economic efficiency based upon perceived economies of scale. Advocates of the economy of scale often perceive a linear relationship in which larger schools are automatically more efficient. Research does not support this view.1 (emphasis added)
Case in point, the Department of Education in Maryland—our next-door neighbor—recently studied this very question and found that large middle schools with over 900 students require more—not less—funding per student which is why they recommend new middle schools in the state be capped at 900 students.2 Consistent with Maryland’s finding, the new DCPS budget model needs to reflect the fact that large schools face increasing costs per student. I have attached a presentation that outlines this funding problem in detail, including cites to studies, academic papers, and DCPS materials.
Regarding the proposed legislation, what we really need is a well-constructed and transparent budget model in combination with increased total educational funding from the city. If for some reason those modest conditions cannot be met, then some form of legislation would be incrementally helpful.
Thank you Council Chairman Mendelson for your time and hard work.
1 Slate, John R. and Jones, Craig H. (2005) “Effects of School Size: A Review of the Literature with Recommendations,” Essays in Education: Vol. 13, Article 12.
2 “Final School Size Study Report: Impact of Smaller Schools,” Prepared for the Maryland Department of Education, Submitted by APA Consulting, June 30, 2015, page 38
3 “Literature with Recommendations,” Essays in Education: Vol. 13, Article 12.
In dealing with school size issues, educational decision-makers should avoid simplistic notions of economic efficiency based upon perceived economies of scale. Advocates of the economy of scale often perceive a linear relationship in which larger schools are automatically more efficient. Research does not support this view. (emphasis added)
A few years back DCPS added a “Middle Grade Investment” that adds 2 to 3 teachers per MS. Any MS above 350 students receives 3 teachers. As such, a school with just 350 students receives the same number of teachers as Deal at 1,466 students. This funding differential costs Deal $738,000.
DCPS provides “Leadership” funds for each school. Deal receives only about half of the Leadership funds per pupil as smaller middle schools. This costs Deal $850,000. At Deal there is one leader per 248 students. At smaller middle schools the average is one leader per 137 students.
For Custodial Staff funding, Deal will receive only $336 per student versus $750 per student received on average by all other DCPS middle schools. This difference costs Deal $606,000.
For one-time “Stimulus” funding, Deal will receive only $182 per student versus $520 per student received on average by all other DCPS middle schools. This difference effectively costs Deal $496,502.