“It just seems we need a more robust, targeted, thoughtful use of summer school,” he said. “We have a whole bunch of young people who simply cascade through the system until they hit the point of failure.”
Henderson said that the budget includes a $7 million increase for 2014 and that 90 schools — about 82 percent of the system — will see an increase in funding. She said the budget also includes money to boost literacy and to guarantee that every elementary school student has “exposure” to art, music, physical education and a foreign language each week.
The system plans to hire 56 additional art, music, PE and foreign language teachers along with 28 additional social workers.
“I believe that this budget is well built to help us achieve the ambitious goals that we set for ourselves,” Henderson said.
Parents say that individual school enrollment estimates seem unfairly low and that the low projections lead to program cuts, which drive families away.
“Not investing in neighborhood schools where enrollment is low is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Jim Sullivan of Logan Circle, one of dozens of parents and activists who aired their concerns about the school budget during a council hearing last month.
Council members have appeared sympathetic to that argument and have signaled an interest in restoring some of the cuts, although it’s unclear where they would get the money to do so.
Catania has said he is interested in identifying unnecessary spending that can be redirected into a fund that would be used to stabilize budgets at schools with falling enrollment.
Absent such a fund, Catania says, families can’t trust that schools will offer the same programs from one year to the next, and schools can’t serve the students left behind.
Ballou, in Southeast Washington, is slated to lose more than 10 percent of its budget next year. But more than 700 students at the school will continue to face profound struggles: Truancy is rampant, 99 percent of students are poor, more than a third have disabilities and fewer than a quarter are proficient in reading and math.
“We do want money to some extent to follow the children,” Catania said in a hearing last month. “But we also need stable schools, and the two are not mutually exclusive.”
Henderson has argued, in a recent Washington Post op-ed and in budget documents, that the school system is investing in important but little-seen improvements, such as literacy instruction, staff training and access to arts, music, foreign language and physical education.