D.C. will invest more in schools next year, Gray says

February 14, 2013

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) wants to give the city’s schools more money next year, raising the basic allocation for each student from $9,124 to $9,306.

The 2 percent raise in per-pupil funding, which is the main source of dollars for both traditional and charter schools, would match the two-percent increase that schools received this year.

“This funding will help undergird our efforts to continue improving our public schools and preparing our residents to compete in the emerging economy,” Gray said in a statement.

Gray’s office couldn't immediately supply an estimate for the total cost of the increase in per-pupil funding. (This year’s 2 percent hike was budgeted at $86 million, but that was before officials knew how many students actually enrolled.) The impact on individual schools won’t be clear until later this year, when school-level budget allocations are released.

But, unsurprisingly, Chancellor Kaya Henderson and D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director Scott Pearson hailed the mayor’s move as an important and needed investment for the city’s 80,000 students.

The District has among the highest per-pupil spending in the country. But activists say that the traditional school system has been squeezed in recent years, particularly as the system began footing the bill for teacher bonuses and merit-based salary increases, which previously had been paid for by private donations.

The city’s funding formula — also known as the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, or UPSFF — establishes a base amount that schools receive for each student ($9,124 this year) and additional amounts that schools receive for children with extra needs.

Theoretically, according to D.C. schools budget guru Mary Levy, a school could receive a maximum of about $44,000 for a pre-school level 4 special education student who also is learning English as a second language.

You can see the whole UPSFF laid out here.

The city has asked the Finance Project, a Washington consultant group, to study the funding formula and recommend how it should be tweaked to ensure that all kids get an adequate education.

For example, right now schools get extra dollars to teach students who are learning English as a second language and students with disabilities. One big question is whether they should also get extra money to teach poor children, who often come to school with needs and challenges that their middle-class peers are less likely to face.

Soumya Bhat, education policy analyst for the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, wrote in an e-mail that the so-called “adequacy study” will “answer the question of whether or not we are spending enough to meet the educational needs of DC students, particularly those who are low-income and struggling academically.”

Consultants will base their recommendations on suggestions made by groups of D.C. teachers and principals, who will be convened to talk about what schools need and should have in order to make sure all kids can learn. The researchers also will examine spending patterns of successful D.C. schools.

Defining an “adequate” education and a “successful” school will perhaps be among the more important and difficult parts of the study.

The work is underway now. Recommendations are due to the deputy mayor of education in September.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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