A Lack of Budget Transparency Contributes to Questions on the Implementation of Pre-K for All

Last week, DCFPI testified at an oversight hearing on the implementation of the “Pre-K  Enhancement and Expansion Act of 2008,” which calls for both universal Pre-K services in the District by 2015 and improvements in the quality of existing and newly constructed Pre-K facilities.

There are a lot of questions about how well the implementation is going.  DCFPI’s testimony focused on one of the reasons why it is so difficult to tell: The budget for Pre-K ‘ like many DC agency budgets ‘ lacks clear, detailed, and useful information on what is being spent on various programs and how services are being delivered.

Some of the major problems DCFPI’s testimony identified:

Lack of spending detail.  Approximately $8.3 million is slated to be spent on Pre-K in FY 2010.  Yet despite the importance of Pre-K services, the budget has just one single line item for Pre-K.  To make the problem worse, the descriptions of the line items are not always clear or well explained.  This makes it nearly impossible to tell what taxpayer dollars are actually being spent on.

In order to provide more spending detail, the District should switch from its current performance based budget structure to program budgeting.  This can help the public to see how funding is being spent on real programs and services.

Lack of meaningful performance data.  In FY 2010 budget documents, there is only one measure in the FY 2010 budget that relates to Pre-K: the percent of Pre-K classrooms “deemed exemplary according to the program quality report card.”  While this is important, other critical information such as the number of children being served by Pre-K or school readiness measure are not provided.  Without meaningful performance data, it is difficult to know how effectively and efficiently taxpayer dollars are being spent.

The new FY 2010 performance plan for OSSE includes four new performance measures which should provide more information on both Pre-K services and child care ‘ this is encouraging.  But there are still critical areas ‘ like the number of new Pre-K slots added each year ‘ where information should be added.

These are just a few ways that transparency of the DC budget could be improved.  With more transparency and meaningful information, both elected officials and the public could have a better idea of how critical programs are being implemented in the District.