D.C. Council votes to increase funding for summer school

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to increase funding for summer school and to continue teaching as many city students as possible over the summer.

As part of $100 million in new spending, the 13-member body unanimously agreed to allocate an additional $4 million for summer school, slated to begin in June.

The money, which will be divided between traditional public and charter schools, was directed away from Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s plan to spend more money on affordable housing.

“I must say, as a father of three children, if a child does nothing from June to September, they lose a lot, and it would be helpful if as many children as possible are in summer school,” said council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), chairman of the finance and revenue committee.

Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the education committee, fought for the extra $4 million after The Washington Post reported last month that D.C. public schools would scale back summer classes this year.

Because of funding constraints, Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson fashioned a program that would serve only about 2,700 students in grades K through 8 on an invitation-only basis. City educators would target students who needed help with reading but were not so far behind that the increased attention over the summer would be unlikely to result in dramatic gains.

Catania and other council members blasted that idea, saying summer school should be serving at least 10,000 students.About 3,750 students were enrolled in summer school last year.

“Sixty percent of our young people cannot read and approximately 60 percent of our young people can’t add, subtract and divide, and yet we have a summer school system that allows only some of our young people, by invitation, to attend?” asked council member Vincent B. Orange (D-At large), referring to third-grade reading and math comprehension results. “That just cannot be.”

The council also approved an “emergency” declaration stating that all students who need extra instruction should be able to enroll in summer school.

To pay for the additional summer school slots, the council scaled back Gray’s proposal to spend an additional $51 million on affordable housing by $4 million.

Catania argued that the council would replenish those funds at a later date.

But Pedro Ribeiro, a Gray spokesman, questioned the reallocation of money.

“We obviously support the intent of the legislation, which is to have as many children as possible in summer school,” Ribeiro said. “However, taking money from affordable housing is not the right way to be doing it.”

For weeks, Gray has said that he would make affordable housing the centerpiece of his plan to spend a projected $190 million surplus in this year’s fiscal budget. The added revenue is in addition to a $417 million surplus from the fiscal 2012 budget.

In all, Gray (D) sent about $100 million in new spending to the council, including $24.2 million for employee pay raises.

Council members approved most of Gray’s proposal, but only after an intense debate about whether they should be doing even more to share the city’s wealth with residents.

Council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) proposed spending an additional $50 million, including $16 million on youth employment and $10 million for programs run through the Office on Aging. Last week, about 300 senior citizens packed the John A. Wilson Building, saying they needed more help to pay for food, transportation and other basic needs.

“We ought to have a heart and vote for this,” Barry said.

“Every one of these [budget items] affects people. Not machinery, people, so let’s vote and help a lot of people.”

But Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and several council members strongly objected, noting that Barry would pay for it by taking money from the city’s reserve funds.

“The path being proposed is exactly the path that led D.C. into bankruptcy,” said council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), a reference to the city’s financial challenges in the 1990s.

Mendelson and Evans also doubted that the proposed recipients of Barry’s spending, including the Office on Aging, could spend all the additional money before the fiscal year ends Oct. 1.

Barry countered that Evans would rather give extra tax dollars “to Wall Street” than use it to help needy residents “at home,” a reference to efforts to boost the city’s bond rating.

“I find that to be an offensive comment,” Evans responded.

“That is the truth,” Barry shot back.

“What I am trying to do is be fiscally responsible,” Evans said. “And as [former council chairwoman] Linda Cropp used to say, ‘It takes members to be fiscally responsible so others can be fiscally irresponsible.’ ”

In the end, all members except Barry, Orange and Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) voted against Barry’s proposal. Orange predicted that senior citizens will remember the vote on Election Day.

“Seniors are a reliable voting bloc, and they expected [the council] to vote in their favor,” Orange said. “There is a price to be a paid for that.”

Emma Brown contributed to this report.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.
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