Mayor’s education budget decreases real dollars for city’s schools

April 23, 2017

Mayor’s proposed education budget decreases real dollars for city’s schools 

City Working Group calls for 3.5% boost

Proposed 1.5% education increase below inflation; will lead to staff/program cuts

It’s budget season, and the education budget proposed by the Mayor is not good news for our schools. While the Mayor’s budget document calls its 1.5% education increase “historic,” the proposal actually means fewer real, inflation-adjusted dollars per student than last year’s budget—and that decrease means reductions in staff    and other cuts at our schools.
It’s particularly bad news for the city’s largest high schools: Wilson, Ballou, Eastern, and CHEC (Columbia Heights Education Campus). Each of these schools appears to face particularly severe staff cuts because of the way D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) allocates funding to each school. For Wilson High School, the proposed budget, as allocated by DCPS, translates into cutting 8.8 staff positions. These cuts are on top of 9 positions cut last year and 12 positions the year before that. Read the Wilson High School Budget Primer here.

Here are a few important facts:
1. Education costs increase when a) the actual costs of education (staff, supplies, etc.) increase due to inflation and b) when enrollment increases, requiring increased resources to meet the needs of a larger student body (more books, more teachers, etc.) In addition, costs can increase if new programs are added or existing programs are beefed up.
2. Since the 1999-2000 school year, the main unit for education budgeting has been “per student funding,” known as UPSFF, the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. By tradition, the City has increased the UPSFF base each year, by roughly 2%, as a way of addressing increased costs due to inflation. You can see how the UPSFF has increased over the years in this letter from Council Member Vincent Gray.
3. After reviewing per student costs, a specially convened city Working Group called for a 3.5% increase in per student base funding. The Working Group was named by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE–DC’s state education agency) to review the current level of DC’s UPSFF. The Task Force was convened amid a variety of concerns, including that education funding had lost much ground to inflation and that for some time the UPSFF hasn’t fully reflected the cost of providing an adequate education. (See here for “Cost of Student Achievement,” a report on funding adequacy in DC, released in 2003.) Click here to read the report of the UPSFF working group, which determined that this year’s per pupil base needed to increase by 3.5%.
4. The Mayor’s proposed 1.5% increase is much lower than what was recommended.
5. The proposed 1.5% increase will not cover the costs of inflation. A parent on Oyster-Adams Bilingual School’s Local School Advisory Team, Emily Mechner–who usefully is also a Harvard-trained economist!–researched DC’s education budget when her children’s school faced staff cuts. She found that the proposed 1.5% increase in UPSFF will not even cover “DCPS’s own estimate of employment costs” and “represents a devastating 3% cut over last year’s levels.”
6. Inadequate funding of the UPSFF causes schools to cover the rising costs of their general, special, and English-language learner education programs with their “at-risk” funds, which are supposed to be reserved to cover the extra costs of providing a strong education to the most vulnerable students. For information on this, inadequate funding for school modernizations (which mainly affects schools in other wards), and other ways in which the proposed budget will leave schools underfunded, see this research conducted by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

Next step: the City Council
The proposed budget is now in the City Council’s court. It’s up to them to find the additional funds to bring the proposed budget up by the needed 3.5%, not the proposed 1.5%.
The Council’s Education Committee will hold its budget oversight hearings next week. The oversight hearing for DCPS will be on Thursday, April 27, with one hearing at 10AM and another at 5PM.        Hearings are held at the City Council at the Wilson building. To sign up to testify, click here. You must sign up by COB Tuesday, April 25.
The Mayor’s proposed budget and the Council hearing are the first key steps in DC’s annual budget process. I will do my best to keep you posted as more information becomes available about the effects of the proposed budget and Council efforts to improve it.

Update: New accountability plan is adopted by the State Board of Education
I’ve reported a number of times that the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, gave every state a chance to change how it evaluates its schools. The law replaces the old No Child Left Behind Act, which required states (including DC) to evaluate schools almost exclusively based on reading and math test scores and on the proportion of students who reached the score threshold deemed “proficient.”
After many months of discussion, testimony, and two drafts, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) brought its final accountability proposal to the State Board of Education (SBOE) for a vote at the end of March.
I voted against the proposal, along with my colleagues from wards 6 and 8, because I didn’t believe the plan moved far enough towards judging schools based on more than just reading and math scores. I also was disappointed that it didn’t move further towards crediting schools for their students’ progress, especially at the high school level, where schools will continue to get no credit for their students’ test score growth. This Washington Post article explains the issues surrounding the new proposal, and this Post op-ed explains the additional changes my colleagues and I had hoped for.
Without question though, the new policy is an improvement over the previous system. Moreover, I credit my colleagues on the State Board for encouraging OSSE to improve on its original January proposal and OSSE for incorporating some of these improvements. All involved are committed to further improving the process over time.
The State Board will be establishing a task force and a process for following up on some of the commitments made in the final proposal, including a way to measure high school “growth” and an indicator for “access and opportunities,” aimed at encouraging schools to provide students with a well-rounded education.
I look forward to working with my SBOE colleagues, OSSE, and the community to bring about the improvements we all still hope to see.

Calling all District Students!

Would you like to serve as the student representative to the Dc State Board of Education or to join the Student Advisory Committee which advises the State Board of Education. Apply here. Applications are due May 30th. Click here for more information on the work of previous student reps, including video interviews with prior members.