The Districts Dime

New Data Tool Shows Need for Consistent Policies and Stable Funding Across DC Public Schools

April 23rd, 2015 | by Soumya Bhat, DCFPI and Cathy Reilly, S.H.A.P.P.E.

The differences among DCPS schools in their “per-student” funding – a metric closely watched by parents and policymakers alike – may not be as great as you thought, based on a new interactive online tool released today by a coalition that includes DCFPI and S.H.A.P.P.E. The new data visualization tool compares each school’s “general education” budget – basic funding before extras for things like special education are added. Because the extras can add a lot to some schools but not others — based on differences in the number of students needing special services — a general education comparison offers a cleaner comparison of how schools are funded.

But the new tool also shows that the way DCPS allocates general education funding is not always consistent or clear. For example, some schools get “specialty funds” while other similar schools do not. This highlights the needs, as a matter of fairness across schools, for new funding policies that are clear and consistently applied.

Launched today by the Coalition for DC Public Schools & Communities and Code for DC, the interactive tool shows how both general education and overall funding were allocated by DCPS across schools and how those allocations will change between this school year and next. By clicking on an individual school line, you can see details on how the school’s enrollment and budget will change from fiscal year 2015 to 2016.

This tool shows why we should compare school budgets through a general education lens. The “total budget” includes general education funding, plus added resources for students who require special education supports, are considered “at risk” or have limited English proficiency. The interactive tool confirms that the schools with more total funding per student tend to serve high numbers of students with additional challenges. Per-student funding at Roosevelt High School, for example, looks much different when all the specialized funds are taken out of the picture – less than $8,000 per student in general education funding compared with $15,000 in the total budget view. Roosevelt’s total funding per student may look much higher than other schools, when much of that is not in reality available to all students.

But even when the specialized funding is stripped away, the tool also shows that some schools receive additional funding while others do not, and these decisions are made at the discretion of DCPS. For example, if a school’s total funding falls below a certain per-student floor – $9,000 for 2015-16 school year – the DCPS budget guideline indicates that its funding should be increased to meet the minimum. However, in FY 2015-16, the per-pupil funding minimum is not guaranteed or uniformly applied. Wilson HS, though seemingly eligible for support from the per-pupil minimum, did not receive any such funds from DCPS for 2015-16.

Likewise, another funding source called “specialty” funding has been expanded to some schools, while others were left out. The criteria DCPS uses to decide which schools qualify for specialty funds – and how much — are not specific or transparently applied. For example, specialty funds will go to Brookland Middle School for arts, to Jefferson Middle School for International Baccalaureate (IB) and to Woodson High School for its STEM program. Banneker High School, an IB school that received specialty funds in the past, will receive them next year, but Eastern, another IB high school, will not.

We feel it is important that DCPS schools have consistent funding and policies to rely on from year-to-year.

  • Revisit the staffing formula. Each school’s general education funds should be adequate to pay for the basic teachers and administration each school needs. Looking to next year, DCPS should revisit its “staffing formula” to take into account school size (how many students) and type (elementary/middle/high school). Right now, for the most part, administrative staff – such as the principal, assistant principal, or attendance counselor – are funded at the same level across schools regardless of how many students attend or what ages they serve. The formula should reflect the different staffing needs of schools of different sizes and type.
  •  Adopt consistent policies for budget allocations within DCPS. It is important that budget allocations from DCPS to individual schools are governed by consistent policies. Schools and parents need to know whether or not certain funding will be available so that they can plan effectively, and they should be able to see that their school has been funded fairly. This requires consistent, transparent criteria and uniform application for funding policies, such as the Per Pupil Funding Minimum and specialty funding, if they are still to be used.
  •  Continue to improve budget transparency. We applaud DCPS for working with the Coalition to inform the data project, but more is needed to ensure the community has a role in and then understands the decisions behind their school’s budget. For example, the city should reconvene a budget task force comprised of community members, parents, school and central office staff to work through budget recommendations starting in the fall.  

We encourage you to check out the tool yourself by visiting

Cathy Reilly is Executive Director of Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators, or S.H.A.P.P.E. (

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

Per Student Tool image

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FY 2016 Budget Would Make Investments That Help Kids Enter School Healthy and Ready to Learn

April 22nd, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

The proposed budget for fiscal year (FY) 2016 would help more District kids get services to help them have a healthy childhood and succeed in school. It maintains local investments for DC’s Maternal and Child Health Home Visiting program – effective home-based instruction for parents of young children. The program has the potential to help thousands of at-risk families, and the FY 2016 budget is a good start, but more funding is needed to make the program readily available in all eight wards.

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Altogether, DC will have $6 million next year for proven programs that improve early childhood health and development. That includes $2 million in local funding for the home visiting program, on top of $2 million in federal grants. The federal grants cover services for 300 families primarily in Wards 5, 7, and 8, and the local funding would allow even more families participate. In addition, the Department of Health recently received $1.8 million in federal Healthy Start funding, which will go towards other maternal and child health initiatives that are backed by research.

About 1,800 babies born every year are at risk for poor health and delays in developing skills related to speech, social interaction, or problem solving. Home visiting program connects residents with services that best meet the family’s needs, using three research-backed models which:

  • Target expecting parents and families with children under age five.
  • Identify signs that children may be at risk for unhealthy development, such as a lack of prenatal care or a family history of substance abuse.
  • Teach parents ways to overcome barriers to success, like activities to help their child be ready for school and ways to access community resources, health screenings, and immunizations.
  • Improve cognitive development and learning.                                                                               

The FY 2016 budget is a start, but DC will need to continue to explore ways to sustain and expand the program, including:

  • Providing long-term funding for the program after our current federal grants expire at the end of FY 2016 (September of next year). More federal funds might be available, but DC must continue to make local investments.
  • Collecting data on what works so that DC can use its performance to apply for additional federal support or so DC can show justification as to why the services should be covered under the Medicaid program.
  • Ensuring that the administration of funds to home visiting providers is timely so that they can see as many families as possible in a given year.

Today, DC Fiscal Policy Institute will testify at the Department of Health’s oversight hearing on these issues. To read the full testimony, click here.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here

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Maintaining Economic Diversity and Affordability: A Strategy for Preserving Affordable Rental Housing in the District of Columbia — Executive Summary

April 20th, 2015 |

The District of Columbia lacks a formal policy and strategy for preserving existing affordable rental housing. This paper, drafted by members of the DCPN Preservation Strategy Working Group is intended to address that need.

The conclusions reached and recommendations made represent the views of members of the Working Group and not necessarily those of the aforementioned government agencies or other Network members who participate in monthly meetings of the DC Preservation Network. Our recommendations in brief are as follows:

Preservation Policy:

The District of Columbia recognizes that to maintain and increase affordable housing options for residents it must preserve existing affordable housing in addition to creating more affordable units. Thus, it will strive to preserve wherever possible and practicable the affordability and sustainability of its existing affordable housing stock. To do so it should dedicate substantial additional funding to preservation and adopt goals and criteria for allocating resources to achieve this objective.

Preservation Goals: 

  • Preserve existing District and federal subsidized housing, including public housing
  • Prevent displacement of residents with low and moderate incomes
  • Preserve housing that serves vulnerable populations such as persons who have disabilities, or are formerly homeless, low income seniors or returning citizens
  • Maintain diversity in neighborhoods
  • Maintain the stock of market rate affordable rental housing

Preservation Criteria: The District should use the following 1 st tier criteria for determining the types of affordable rental housing that should be preserved:

  • federally funded with rent or operating subsidy
  • serves very low-income residents
  • meets the needs of vulnerable population
  • needed to maintain economic diversity
  • near DC funded economic development projects
  • near transit

If projects rank similarly under 1st tier criteria, 2nd tier criteria should be used to prioritize assistance.

  • current low rent levels
  • a high probability of being lost
  • low cost per unit to preserve

Preservation Methods and Tools: DC’s preservation strategy should include a variety of approaches for preserving privately owned and publicly owned subsidized housing and privately owned affordable unsubsidized housing. Methods and tools are spelled out in the following preservation strategy paper.

Preservation Implementation: 

  • The District should create a Preservation Team made up of top officials from District housing agencies, Office of Planning, Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and a representative from the DC Preservation Network to develop protocols for preserving affordable housing. An Action Team of operating staff from the above agencies and offices should be charged with implementation.
  • The Department of Housing and Community Development should designate a senior staff person to support the work of the Preservation Team, coordinate preservation efforts across agency lines, and act as the liaison to the DC Preservation Network.
  • The DC Preservation Network should continue to monitor affordable rental properties and alert officials, agencies, and Network participants about at-risk projects. 2 M
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Introducing DCFPI’s Budget Chartbook and Toolkit!

April 17th, 2015 | by DCFPI Staff

We’ve spent the past few weeks at DCFPI working to understand and uncover the story of Mayor’s Bowser first budget, by poring through budget books and spreadsheets. And we’re really excited today to share with you what we found!

The DCFPI Budget Toolkit is ready for you, including a new Budget Chartbook that boils down the key elements of the new budget into 16 slides. The Toolkit highlights changes in funding for many things you care about – from education to health care to housing – and highlights how you can get involved now to support the budget or work to make it better.

ChartbookHere’s what you’ll find in the Toolkit:

  • Analysis: We’ve done an overview of the Mayor’s proposed budget, plus detailed looks at housing, homeless services, TANF, health, education, workforce development, and taxes. 
  • Chartbook:  Our new chartbook highlights key budget trends through 16 easy-to-understand charts.
  • Tips on Understanding the Budget: The Toolkit includes a timeline on the budget process and primers to understand how the city sets its budget, how it raises revenues, and how schools are financed. 
  • Information on Important Events and Documents:  If you want to find out when a DC government agency will hold a public briefing on its budget, the DC Council hearing schedule, or the budget itself, it is all there in the Toolkit.

We hope you find the DCFPI Budget Toolkit useful and look forward to seeing you at a budget hearing soon!

To print a copy of today’s blog post, click here.

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How to Use the DC Budget to Improve Health Care Access and Quality

April 16th, 2015 | by Wes Rivers

The District will soon enjoy large health care savings as the federal government pays for more people and more services, and these should be reinvested to expand health services and improve quality. Instead, the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget would use those savings to cover gaps outside of health. That is a lost opportunity and not what was intended when the federal government increased health spending under the Affordable Care Act.

The federal government will now pay the full costs for residents who are newly eligible for Medicaid, like childless adults under 200 percent of the poverty line. They will also fully cover the costs of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. 4.16.15 Medicaid paymentsBeyond this, DC will soon use Medicaid to provide substance abuse services for adults. That brings more federal money and more services – and saves DC a lot of money!

But the proposed budget would use these savings to cover gaps elsewhere. The budget also would take $23 million from the Healthy DC Fund – which is used to help fund Medicaid and Alliance — to cover non-health expenses.

DC should instead use these funds to expand health care access and quality by:

  •  Eliminating restrictive rules that contributed to 10,000 people losing coverage from the Healthcare Alliance.  The Alliance serves people who are not eligible for Medicaid or Medicare. Rules adopted in recent years require participants to have a face-to-face interview every 6 months to maintain eligibility. This is an undue burden on eligible residents, many of whom have jobs, and up to 67 percent of Alliance re-certifications are terminated because participants are unable to meet it. The Department of Health Care Finance acknowledges the problem, but expresses concerns about the costs of changing it. Savings and the Healthy DC fund could be used to pay for those costs.
  • Improving Personal Care Services: The FY 2016 budget proposes reducing reimbursements to companies providing personal care aides for residents with long-term disabilities and other chronic conditions. At the same time, aides are supposed to get a pay increase up to the living wage – $13.50 per hour. If the reimbursement rate reduction makes it hard for companies to pay the living wage, DC could use health savings to set rates at appropriate levels to make that possible.
  •  Improving Managed Care: Managed Care Organizations serve 175,000 Medicaid beneficiaries, but have had trouble providing case management and care coordination. As a result, they spent $35 million on expenses related to avoidable ER visits, hospital admissions and readmissions – all signs of poorly managed health. DC could use savings for increased oversight and monitoring of the program. The District also could use the funding to develop programs that pay MCOs based on performance – with lower rates for bad outcomes.

The DC Fiscal Policy Institute will testify tomorrow at the Department of Health Care Finance’s budget oversight hearing on these issues. To read the full testimony, click here.

To print a copy of today’s blog, click here.

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