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New Report Challenges DCPS Funding Choices

Latest research from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute explains why equality is not enough in DC public schools

Washington, DC – A new report released today by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DCFPI) finds that choices made by DCPS over how to allocate funds to its schools end up reinforcing, rather than reducing, inequities by geography, race, and income. The report, “The Funding Roadmap for Educational Justice in DC: A Call for Equity Over Equality in DC Public Schools,” uncovers that a student’s zip code still remains a factor in the money spent on their schools.

This report is the second in a series from the DC Fiscal Policy Institute on equity and adequacy in education funding in the District.

While DC Public Schools (DCPS) has rules so that all schools receive adequate staffing—with added funds to serve students who face barriers and challenges—the reality is far different. This is evident this school year, where 15 schools located in Wards 7 and 8—areas where poverty is concentrated and the population is primarily Black—faced significant budget cuts.

The DCFPI report found this occurs because the overall DCPS budget is underfunded, and then DCPS chooses to prioritize its limited resources to provide core staffing at all schools. To do that, however, DCPS diverts a large share of its “at-risk” funds which are intended to supplement services for students who are low-income or face other barriers. DCFPI also found that DCPS budgeting choices haven’t followed other school funding laws, like requirements to limit cuts at any school to no more than 5 percent.

“Instead of using ‘at-risk’ funds for the students they were intended to serve, DCPS shifts much of this money to fulfill staffing requirements across all schools, including more affluent ones,” said Alyssa Noth, Policy Analyst at DCPFI. “For years, DCPS has chosen to prioritize equality when it should have focused on equity in funding schools in the District.”

DCPS plans to revise its funding model by fiscal year 2022, and Noth recommends that the new funding model prioritize the allocation of supplemental funds to communities facing the greatest barriers.

“DCPS should ensure that funds intended to promote equity—for students who are at-risk, in special education, or are English Learners—follow students to their schools,” said Noth. “If DCPS cannot fulfill the Comprehensive Staffing Model with remaining funds, the model should be scaled back to minimize the staffing cuts across all schools.”

The strategies presented in Noth’s report provide an opportunity for the school system to fix the current flaws in its school allocation method, while also taking into consideration that low-income students have greater needs than their more affluent counterparts.


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