Proposed Staffing Cuts Undermine Education Equity

Testimony of Erika Roberson at the Budget Oversight Hearing on DCPS FY 2025 Submitted Budgets

Chairperson Mendelson, members of the committee, and committee staff, thank you for the opportunity to testify. My name is Erika Roberson, and I am a policy analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a non-profit organization that shapes racially-just tax, budget, and policy decisions by centering Black and brown communities in our research and analysis, community partnerships, and advocacy efforts to advance an antiracist, equitable future.

Today, I would like to discuss DCFPI’s preliminary analysis of the fiscal year (FY) 2025 submitted DC Public Schools (DCPS) budgets. DCFPI is grateful to the mayor for increasing the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) and continuing to increase investments for “at-risk” students. But the projected staffing cuts raise concerns for how DCPS will provide an adequate education in FY 2025. Given that schools in Wards 5, 7, and 8 serve a majority of Black and brown students and those with low incomes, DCFPI’s analysis focuses on these wards. Key findings include:

  • Schools in Wards 7 and 8 continue to face concerning enrollment declines, underscoring the need for DC policymakers to commit to investing in by-right neighborhood schools;
  • Wards 7 and 8 have a disproportionate number of small schools, and DCFPI continues to support the exploration of a small school weight to bolster small schools’ ability to afford positions and programming; and,
  • Ninety-six percent of schools in Wards 5, 7, and 8 are losing staff, ranging from classroom teachers to custodial and other support staff.

DCFPI urges the Council to ensure that none of these schools lose staff in FY 2025 because these cuts undermine education equity. The mayor’s proposal to repeal the Schools First in Budgeting Act would backtrack on the progress the District has made to keep schools whole. The Council should work with the mayor moving forward to create a school budget model that ensures stability and adequacy (after accounting for labor and inflationary increases).

Policymakers Must Create a Plan to Invest in By-Right Neighborhood Schools

Declining enrollment in by-right neighborhood schools, particularly those east of the Anacostia River, is leading to sizeable losses in full-time staff positions (FTEs), causing instability that will likely harm student outcomes for those already facing the greatest barriers to academic success. These schools have faced declining enrollment for years, resulting in underutilized schools that are also under-resourced because most of a school’s funding is determined by its enrollment. In FY 2025, 40 percent of schools in Ward 7 and 70 percent of those in Ward 8 are projected to see declines in enrollment, and across both wards 95 percent of schools with enrollment declines are by-right neighborhood schools (Tables 1 and 2). In the mayor’s proposal, 56 percent of schools in Ward 7 and 8 will lose general education FTEs. Without increased investments in by-right neighborhood schools, enrollment declines will continue to cause budget cuts and instability.

Table 1
Table 2

Continuous enrollment declines in Wards 7 and 8 have resulted in a disproportionate number of small schools in these wards.[1] These schools are often more expensive to operate and have an unfair burden of fixed costs relative to medium sized schools throughout the District.[2] Neighborhood schools that experience enrollment declines tend to underperform academically compared to those with growing enrollments.[3] This may partially be attributed to the burden of administrative costs, which results in less funding for instructional resources, according to the recently published Adequacy Study by the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME).[4] When enrollment-based funds decrease, principals of small schools are often forced to cut programs and resources that have helped students thrive.

DCFPI has previously testified on the issue of enrollment declines and continues to support the exploration of a supplemental weight through the Uniform Per-Student Funding Formula for small by-right neighborhood schools.[5] This could help these small schools to afford valuable positions and programming that larger schools offer, such as music teachers and after-school programs.

Ninety-Six Percent of Schools in Wards 5, 7, and 8 Are Projected to Face Staffing Cuts

Nearly all schools in Wards 5, 7, and 8 are facing staffing cuts. While some schools’ staffing cuts seem to be in response to projected enrollment declines, this is not the case for all schools, particularly those in Ward 5 where all schools have a projected increase in enrollment (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 3
Table 4

Staffing cuts lead to negative outcomes like larger classroom sizes, which research finds results in less students getting their needs met and educator burnout.[6] Also, staff cuts result in students losing access to caring adults, and the loss of key programming for students, such as theater and foreign language.[7] Staff help create the culture of schools and students tend to be more excited to go to school when they know they will be greeted by a welcoming adult. The District is currently facing alarming rates of chronic absenteeism, and with the loss of vital staff such as those who support social emotional efforts, particularly in Ward 7, DC risks seeing these rates increase (Table 5).[8] The Council must invest in adequately staffing DC’s schools and ensure stabilization of key staff year over year.

Table 5

To truly address school budget stability, DCFPI urges the DC Council and education officials to articulate, demonstrate, and fund an equitable vision for and commitment to neighborhood schools. They should consider the ongoing needs of school communities to ensure critical programs and positions are resourced in FY 2025. They should increase funding for schools to prevent cuts to staff and vital programs. The mayor’s proposal to repeal the Schools First in Budgeting Act undermines the goal of education equity throughout the District. DCFPI encourages the DC Council to work with the mayor to implement a school budget model that ensures stability and adequacy (after accounting for labor and inflationary increases).

Thank you for the opportunity to testify. I am happy to answer any questions.

[1] The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education defines small schools as elementary schools with a total enrollment of less than 300 students, middle schools with less than 400 students, high schools with total enrollments less than 500 students, and all other schools with total enrollment less than 300 students.

[2] Forthcoming analysis from DC Fiscal Policy Institute.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education, “ 2023 School Funding Study,” March 22, 2024.

[5] Qubilah Huddleston, “Initial School Budgets Show DCPS Needs a Plan to Ensure Equitable Funding and Stability,” DC Fiscal Policy Institute, February 24, 2023.

[6] Mary Ellen Flannery, “Class Sizes: A Growing Issue Among Educators,” NEA Today, June 14, 2023.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Sarah Kim, “School absenteeism rates in DC are alarmingly high. What’s the city doing about it?,” WAMU 88.5, March 20, 2024.