Investing in Our Kids: District of Columbia School Finance Primer

How we invest in public education is one of the most important decisions we make as a community. Economic opportunity and growth — for individuals, families, and the city as a whole — is closely tied to how well we educate our children. This guide is designed to help parents and others have a voice in that process.

Public education from pre-k through grade 12 in the District of Columbia is offered through two systems:  DC Public Schools (DCPS) and DC Public Charter Schools (DCPCS). Both receive basic funding based on student enrollment, but the systems differ in how money flows to individual schools and how much autonomy each school has in spending decisions. All schools receive funding to operate during the school year and summer, including resources for teachers, principals, supplies and utilities. The two school systems also get funding for capital construction — which includes both major renovations and new construction. This funding comes from a mixture of sources, including local DC government, the federal government, and private sources.

This guide is designed to help residents, parents, and elected officials understand how DC schools are funded. It is designed to answer the following questions:

  • How are the total budgets for DCPS and DC public charter schools set?
  • How does DCPS allocate funds to local schools?
  • How do individual schools make spending decisions?
  • How are school facilities funded?

Throughout the guide, there are suggestions for parents and other stakeholders looking to better understand how they can influence school funding decisions during various stages of the budget cycle. This primer uses budget numbers for the 2014-2015 school year for DCPS and DCPCS, the most recent year for which complete information is available. Where possible, figures for the upcoming 2015-2016 school year are provided.