Chairman Catania and members of the Committee on Education, thank you for the opportunity to speak today. My name is Soumya Bhat, and I am the Education Finance and Policy Analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute. DCFPI is a non-profit organization that engages in research and public education on the fiscal and economic health of the District of Columbia, with an emphasis on policies that affect low- and moderate-income residents.
I am here today to offer feedback on the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2015 budget of District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). There were several promising changes to the school funding formula this year, including a two percent increase to the base level, the addition of a new supplement weight category for at-risk students, and increased local resources for adult, alternative, English language learner, and special education students. DCFPI is highly supportive of these enhanced local resources, but we want to ensure that the allocation of these dollars is transparent, and that the DCPS schools with the biggest concentrations of need are seeing their share of the city’s enhanced educational investments.
The proposed general fund budget for DCPS is $709 million, a 6 percent increase from FY 2014 when inflation and supplemental funding are taken into account. Based on the 21,407 identified at-risk students across the school system, the new at-risk weight appears to add $44 million in local funds to the DCPS budget. However, this new weight encompasses funding for summer school, which used to have its own separate weight in the formula, but no longer does. So, the net new funding for at-risk students is $44 million, less summer school costs. Summer school was budgeted at $17 million last year, but actual expenditures were close to $4 million. This means the new funding could be as much as $40 million.
DCFPI is highly supportive of the new funding for at-risk students, but we are concerned that the additional funds are not equitably distributed across DCPS schools for FY 2015. Because the proposed budget does not show how at-risk funds would be spent next school year — and it is clear that at-risk funds do not follow the student to their school’s budget — it is difficult for advocates and parents to see where the dollars would go under the mayor and Chancellor’s budget plan.
The proposed DCPS budget clearly reflects several of the Chancellor’s initiatives, including extended school day options for all middle schools and the lowest 40 performing elementary schools, enhanced middle grade curriculum and staffing, and funds for activities focused on promoting student satisfaction. About $5.7 million in extended school day funds are proposed to be allocated to 52 DCPS schools to lengthen the school day to 4:15pm for four days a week, provided teachers buy into the idea per terms in the Washington Teachers Union contract. The “Proving What’s Possible” student satisfaction awards, totaling $4.8 million across schools, can go towards a number of activities, including field trips, enrichment activities, and anti-bullying programs. However, it is not clear from the budget book whether or not these efforts were supported by the new at-risk funds or if there was a comprehensive plan developed by school leaders to determine the best approach for their students.
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