But schools also have much less power to tailor spending to community needs, a change that has been unpopular among principals and parents.
“My kids don’t need to learn French. They need to learn to read and write on grade level in English,” said the principal of a school with a high percentage of struggling students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Some council members have expressed concern about curtailing principals’ flexibility. Schools spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said that D.C. principals still have great latitude to choose their staff, but the new scheduling requirements were necessary “to ensure some consistency across the district.”
The requirement to offer all four special subjects comes with a catch: Dozens of schools won’t receive extra resources to meet the mandate. Some schools that currently have a full-time art teacher, for example, will have to downgrade that position to a part-time role to be able to hire a foreign-language teacher.
Overall spending on art and music is falling from $20 million to $18.3 million, according to budget documents. But the school system is more than doubling its investment in foreign language, from $5.4 million this fiscal year to $11.4 million next year.
The school system also plans to spend more on librarians, addressing long-standing complaints about the more than 50 schools that have no librarian. Nearly every school will have at least part-time librarian coverage next year. But to help pay for that increase, more than two dozen schools that currently have a full-time librarian will see that position reduced to half-time.
Activist Peter MacPherson, who is among the most vocal critics of school policies under Gray and Henderson, has called on the mayor to dip into the $1.6 billion in combined surplus funding to make sure that every school has a full-time librarian and books on the shelves.
“For those of us who have been advocating on this issue for more than year, what the chancellor has put forward thus on this issue is nothing but an affront,” MacPherson wrote in an e-mail to Gray. “I’m telling you that a wide swath of the school stakeholder community is deeply unhappy.”