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Posted at 07:43 PM ET, 09/21/2011

Education finance commission finally forming

Remember the Public Education Reform Commission Establishment Act of 2010? To review:

The D.C. Council passed it in July of that year, authorizing the mayor to hire an independent consultant to form a panel that would study the city’s uniform per-pupil funding formula. Many public charter leaders have long asserted that their sector is shortchanged because charter schools must dip into the per pupil kitty to pay for services-- such as legal and maintenance costs --that are covered through a separate funding stream at the DCPS schools. The difference persists even though the charter schools are also public, although operated independently of DCPS.

The plan was for the commission to deliver an “equity report” to the council no later than Jan. 31, 2011. But the election, the transition and what Deputy Mayor for Education De’Shawn Wright called the “cumbersome” District procurement process, kept the commission from launching, he said.

With fiscal year 2011 winding down — along with funding available for the study--the panel is getting some traction. Two firms have been selected to run the process, and Wright said he hopes to have findings by the end of November, in time to inform the FY 2013 budget cycle.

So what does the District hope to learn about school finance that either he or Mayor Vincent C. Gray don’t already know?

“I think we’ll learn a great deal,” Wright said Wednesday. “Seventy-five percent of it we sort of know, 25 percent of it is nuance that has to get worked out.”

Wright cautioned that whatever recommendations grow from the study, it won’t be a matter of simply determining the difference in funding and balancing it out.

“This isn’t ‘Charters get X and DCPS gets X.’ It’s a starting point for the conversation,” he said. If charters ultimately receive more money, he said, it won’t come without strings.

“There are tradeoffs,” Wright said. “Charters chose to go the route of charters for a reason. Those [extra] resources and supports are going to come with a greater degree of accountability.”

This is one of two major outside studies overseen by Wright that could have a significant impact on the future shape of the city’s school system. The District has asked the Illinois Facilities Fund, a firm with close ties to the charter movement, to measure how well neighborhoods are served by schools and to make recommendationsthat likely will inform an expected big round of school closures next year.

The school spending analysis will be conducted by The Finance Project, a D.C.-based firm that has published a number of studies on the economics of state and local government programs and charter schools. It was selected over a consortium with a fairly intimate knowledge of the DCPS and charter world, including Mary Levy, Thurgood Marshall PCS co-founder Josh Kern, and the Urban Institute.

Another consultant, Collaborative Communications, will run the “public outreach” segment of the project. The firm has worked with cities and school districts (San Diego, Boston, Prince George’s County) to convene and organize public discussion of education issues. Collaborative Communications will select the 13 commission members in consultation with Wright’s office. The law requires representation from the deputy mayor, the chief financial officer, the budget office, the council’s Committee of the Whole, the D.C. Public Charter School Board, DCPS, OSSE, two local charter schools, three community-based organizations and a national or local expert in education financing.

A list of the members will be available Thursday, a Collaborative Communications spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Because financing of the $60,000 project will straddle two fiscal years, it’s been broken into two phases. These two firms may or not be in the picture in a few weeks as the next phase is put out for bidding.

“Their work is teed up so that there will be a seamless transition,” Wright said.

The law also requires that all commission meetings be public. The first scheduled session is Tuesday, Sept. 27, from 4:30 pm to 7 pm at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, 901 G Street NW, room A-10.

By  |  07:43 PM ET, 09/21/2011

 
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