CORRECTION: This post has been updated to correct an inaccurate description of the commission’s recommendation on how building maintenance, utilities and custodial services should be funded. The commission did not explicitly propose that such expenses be removed from the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula.
The Public Education Finance Reform Commission never had the time or resources to fully meet the ambitious charge set by the D.C. Council, which was to address equity, adequacy, affordability and transparency issues in school funding.
But the 15-member panel concluded its work last week with a series of recommendations to the Gray administration that, as its final report says, “offers a starting point for the design and implementation of a sound and equitable education financing system in the District of Columbia.”
Among the recommendations:
--Add an additional “weight” to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula so that schools receive more money for serving larger numbers of students who are both from low-income households and far behind academically.
--That the mayor revise the way that building maintenance, utilities and custodial services are funded. Such expenses are currently covered in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, which is based on enrollment. Charter advocates assert that their schools are shortchanged because DCPS has funding streams outside the uniform formula to cover such costs. But some commission members concluded that DCPS may actually be underfunded because its aging and oversized building stock is more expensive to maintain than some newer charter facilities. They asked the mayor to consider developing a new formula that takes into account the unique characteristics and needs of each school building, including age, renovation history and size in square feet. Three charter school representatives to commission dissented, calling for funding to remain on a per-student basis under but incorporating other funds spent outside the uniform formula.
--Form a technical working group under the auspices of Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to issue annual reports on needed changes to education funding within and outside he uniform formula.
--Perhaps its most significant recommendation to Gray was for another study: this one a year-long look at what an adequate public education really costs in the District. Many states have used adequacy studies to revise their school funding.
There was no consensus on other key matters, including the city’s practice of giving DCPS supplemental funding during the fiscal year while charters have received none. The commission’s findings are not likely to end the debate about whether charters are funded equitably. Mark Lerner, president of the Washington Latin PCS board of governors, makes that clear in his Examiner blog.
Among the big remaining questions is the appropriate role for the District in funding and/or finding buildings for charter schools. Although it was not part of the commission’s charge, it got considerable discussion. “The commission did have a pretty significant undercurrent of wanting more efficient use of public school space,” said chairman Ed Lazere.
The commission was created by the council in mid-2010, but didn’t convene until late September, with a Jan. 31 to deliver a report that could be used to inform the FY 2013 budget process. Then it essentially disappeared for a month because of its own budget and procurement problems. In all, the commission met five times for three-hour evening sessions, and then twice on conference calls.
“I do this work professionally and for me taking on half of what the commission took on would have taken four, five, six months to get the data, understand it and figure out what you didn’t get,” said commissioner Mike Siegel, a public and environmental finance consultant. “It was a fairly herculean task.”
Lazere, executive director of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, said he feels pretty good about what the panel was able to accomplish.
“We were charged with broad goals and I think we looked at all of them,” he said.