New Report: Educational Equity Requires an Adequate School Budget

Steps to Fund Educational Success in the District

Over the next three weeks, DCFPI will release a series of reports on education funding in the District. The series will analyze budget adequacy and practices as well as why money matters for academic achievement, especially for students at-risk of falling behind. DCFPI will release the second report in the series next week.

Schools may get the biggest share of DC’s local revenues, but that doesn’t mean they get enough, a new DCFPI report shows.

A closer look shows that the education budget continues to fail students who need that money the most—falling far below what experts say is adequate and not keeping up with rising costs year-to-year. Over the past seven years, the gap between actual funding and what’s needed has grown to over $740 million.

The consequences show up in several ways in this year’s school funding. Despite deep inequities in school outcomes by income and race, 15 schools in Wards 7 and 8 saw their budgets cut this year. Beyond that, DCPS openly misuses special funds for students who are considered “at-risk” of academic failure.

The impact also shows up in DC’s public charter schools, where the average starting salary for teachers is just $45,750. That’s $15,000 less than what’s needed to afford even a studio apartment in DC.

The path to good school outcomes, and education equity, has to start with a rational budget-setting process that gives all schools what they need, provides additional funds to address inequity, and increases from year to year to keep up with known costs.

Getting to a More Sound School Budget Will Help Us All

The reality is that for a long time DC hasn’t had a system for developing the school budget in a logical way. Rather than looking at the costs of the city’s staffing model and taking a look at how costs rise year to year, the discussion over how much to devote to education is based on other factors, like the city’s available revenues or other spending needs. While those are legitimate constraints, it’s a problem if that means consistently underfunding schools. And it needs to change in time for Fiscal Year 2021.

The Mayor, the DC Council, and the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) all have a role to play in building a better budget to support the 94,603 public school students that show up to school every day eager and capable of learning at high levels. The education budget should be sufficient to keep up with rising costs, stabilize school budgets, and ensure all teachers earn a living wage.

In the short-term:

  • The Mayor should tie the annual Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) percent increases to rising personnel costs and inflation and commit to a plan to close the seven percent gap between current funding and the recommendations of the DC Education Adequacy Study.
  • DCPS should provide stabilization funds to schools with declining enrollment to make sure that a drop in enrollment doesn’t result in devastating cuts for the students who remain.
  • DCPS should ensure at-risk funding is supplemental to each school’s base funding.
  • The DC Council should amend the School Reform Act to establish a minimum living wage salary for public charter school teachers.

In the long-term:

  • The Mayor and DC Council should ensure that UPSFF funding is equal to or greater than the outdated Adequacy Study recommendation adjusted for inflation plus any contractual increases to teacher compensation. When adjusting for inflation, policymakers should use the Consumer Price Index inflation measure to project increased costs for non-personnel expenses and the Employment Cost Index inflation measure to project increased costs for personnel expenses.
  • The DME should reexamine the cost of providing an adequate public education every five years.
  • DCPS should implement a staffing model, with fidelity, that ensures equitable programming at small and declining enrollment schools.

The recommendations in DCFPI’s new report are common-sense reforms that policymakers can implement to get the education budget back on track and better enable all students to meet academic performance standards and thrive.