Increases in Funding Necessary for D.C. Education

A recent study commissioned in Washington D.C. found that the district needs to boost funding for public education by 15% to ensure that resources are available for improved student achievement.

The study suggests raising the per-pupil allocation from $9,306 to $11,628; this would provide better technology for classrooms and fund enough teachers, support workers and administrators. Additional money is called for to help students at risk of academic failure, and for students whose native language is not English, it also recommends changes to guarantee equality between charter and traditional schools.

The study is the result of a 2010 D.C. law that requires an examination of the per-pupil funding formula used to distribute taxpayer dollars to schools. Two outside consulting firms looked at spending patterns of successful District schools and hosted panel discussions with dozens of city educators.

Whether or not the district had been meeting legal requirements related to charter and traditional school funding was also examined. IT was concluded that it has not. Traditional schools receive subsidies from outside agencies that help with legal services, facility maintenance and other expenses, while charters do not.

Advocates for charter schools were thrilled with the findings. Robert Cane, executive director of the pro-charter advocacy group ­FOCUS, says this was the first time that the government has acknowledged that there was inequitable funding.

The key question, according to Crane, is whether or not the administration will follow through with the study’s recommendations. Emma Brown of the Washington Post found that the recommendations were for ALL school funding to be funded via the per-pupil formula. It was also suggested that in addition to the new $180 million investment, the district would continue spending $40 million to support maintenance costs of the school.

Smith said that subsidy is likely to shrink over time but may never go away because of the fundamental difference between traditional and charter schools. The school system is legally obligated to serve all children, she said, and must maintain extra space across the District and be ready to accept students at any time.

Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith wants to focus resources on students learning English as a second language and on at-risk students. The at-risk students can be defined as those in foster care, eligible for food stamps or  homeless; it would also cover high school students who are more than a grade level behind.  This would cover more than 30,000 of the city’s 80,000 students.

The study recommends that each at-risk student receive the base allocation plus $3,906, which would mean a total expenditure of about $120 million per year. Smith said it’s still not clear how much funding the Gray administration will recommend.

The budget proposal by Mayor Vincent C. Gray will be based on the findings of the study. Recommendations will probably need to be phased in to help accommodate the costs.