Testimony at the Public Hearing on DC Public Schools Budget for School Year 2022-2023

My name is Qubilah Huddleston, and I am a Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI). DCFPI is a nonprofit organization that promotes budget choices to address DC’s racial and economic inequities through independent research and policy recommendations. Thank you for the opportunity to testify at the DC Public Schools (DCPS) Budget Hearing for Fiscal Year (FY) 2023.

DCFPI recommends that the DCPS finance team:

  • Offers transparent information on DCPS’ allocation of federal COVID-19 relief dollars at school and central office levels.
  • Ensures every school budget keeps up with rising costs to not lose real buying power and avoid cuts.
  • Gives school communities, namely Local School Advisory Teams (LSATs) and principals, the opportunity to develop “at-risk” spending plans.

DCPS Should Provide More Transparent Reporting on Federal Education Dollars

DCPS has received at least $304 million in federal recovery dollars since the pandemic took the District (and world) by storm in March 2020, with the majority of these funds coming from the recent American Rescue Plan (ARP). Yet detailed information about how DCPS is investing and monitoring the use and expected outcomes of federal investments is limited, buried in opaque budget documents, or spread across documents and/or websites of different agencies.

Given the historic level of federal funding that the system has received, and the challenges schools are facing in helping students, families, and educators recover and cope with the enduring pandemic, DCPS should:

  • Include data on how much federal recovery money schools have received and how they spent it in the school allocation dashboard on dcpsbudget.com. The dashboard should also include how much ARP funding has been allocated to the central office and for what purposes, and it should be updated on a regular basis.
  • Include a web page on dcpsbudget.com that provides clear information on allowable uses of ARP dollars that DCPS will be authorized to spend through September 30, 2024.

School Budgets Should Keep Up with Rising Costs

Year after year, many schools in DCPS, but especially lower enrolled neighborhood schools in Wards 7 and 8 that serve majority Black students and those from low-income communities, are unable to maintain previous staffing levels let alone add any new staff to support student needs. This is largely due to the relationship between student enrollment and a school’s budget—the fewer students a school is projected to serve, the smaller its projected school budget. However, another key factor driving inadequate school budgets is the failure of DCPS’s budget to keep up with rising costs. DCPS must ensure that all schools’ budgets keep up with inflation and keep up with any expected increases in key education cost drivers, such as the salary and benefits of educators. When DCPS fails to minimally follow these sound budgeting practices, schools lose purchasing power and are forced to make cuts or wait and see whether the DC Council can find additional funding to help stave off these cuts. DCPS should request that the Mayor account for the real costs of operating the system in her proposed increase to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.

New Funding Model Should Comply with “Supplement, Not Supplant” Law and Give LSATs More Flexibility

The DC Code requires DCPS to supplement a school’s budget with “at-risk” funds in order to provide additional resources to students from families with low incomes, but it has been well documented that DCPS routinely flouts this law and instead relies on these funds to cover basic educational services. DCPS has engaged in this practice especially at schools serving high percentages of “at-risk” students, according to the DC Auditor.[1]

As a member of the DCPS Policy Budget Committee, DCFPI is supportive of DCPS’s efforts to create a funding model that truly supplements school budgets with “at-risk” funds. However, we know that in order for this to occur, enrollment and/or program driven funding will need to be sufficient to cover minimally required staffing positions. We strongly encourage DCPS to submit a budget request to the Mayor that will fully support necessary staffing and preserve “at-risk” funds for their intended purpose.

Additionally, DCFPI recommends that DCPS give LSATs more than ten days to review initial budget allocations and allow them to develop “at-risk” spending plans in partnership with their principals.[2] DCPS describes LSATs as “a key lever to increasing transparency at DCPS and ensuring decisions affecting school communities are made collaboratively with the help of a diverse group of school stakeholders.” But, in practice, LSATs have had very little say over their budgets, particularly supplemental funds like “at-risk” dollars. DCPS should give LSATs and principals ownership over their “at-risk” funds to help foster more transparency and ensure that parents, educators, and community members are more empowered to shape their school’s budget—the intended goal of LSATs.

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

[1] Erin Roth and Will Perkins, “D.C. Schools Shortchange At-Risk Students,” Office of the District of Columbia Auditor, June 26, 2019.

[2] Councilmember Charles Allen introduced the “At-Risk T At-Risk School Funding Transparency Amendment Act of 2019” that would have given LSATs and principals the ability to develop “at-risk” spending plans but would have allowed the DCPS Chancellor to amend these plans and required the Chancellor to make the justifications for these amendments publicly available.