Per-Pupil Funding Increase Sought

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said he will seek a 5 percent increase in per-pupil funding for the more than 70,000 students enrolled in the D.C. system and charter schools, a $52.9 million effort to improve city education.

The recommendation to spend $8,770 a child when the school year begins in August came from State Superintendent Deborah A. Gist. Now, $8,322 is spent for each student.

Over his first year as mayor, Fenty (D) has apparently shifted from his fiscally conservative approach of working with existing resources to actively seeking more money for the schools. In August, Fenty said the city would need to spend $120 million more for repairs. By November, he had asked the D.C. Council to approve an $81 million one-time payment.

Under Gist's proposal, the school system would receive $33.8 million more and the charters, $19.1 million. Fenty said he would include the additional amounts when he submits his budget to the council March 20.

Gist has previously recommended increases in the student funding formula, but yesterday was the first time that a mayor had endorsed her funding proposal. In a briefing to council members, Gist said the higher amount would cover such things as a literacy and math coach at every school.

"It takes into account the kind of services that we know we want children at each school to receive," Gist said.

By law, the city must fund students in the school system and charter schools equally. Charter school administrators and Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee have the discretion to use the per-pupil funding as they see fit. In the 49,600-student school system, officials apply a secondary measure, the weighted student formula, to allot money to individual schools according to enrollment and students' needs.

Parents and education advocates have long complained that the weighted formula does not leave the schools enough money to run a full program. Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso told council members yesterday that Rhee is working on changes to the formula as she creates her budget for fiscal 2009, which begins Oct. 1

The city's youngest students, those in preschool and pre-kindergarten, would have the biggest gains under the recommendations released yesterday. Gist proposed increasing the "weight" for students in early childhood programs, meaning the programs would receive more money for each student than other grades.

In March, the council approved a $796 million budget for the D.C. schools. After the mayoral takeover of the school system June 12, several departments were transferred to Gist's office, resulting in an $18 million cut from the school budget that left the system with $778 million in local funds for fiscal 2008. Next month, Rhee plans to submit a $794.6 million budget request to the mayor for fiscal 2009.

Because of declining school system enrollment, Fenty and Rhee have proposed closing 23 schools, a move that they say could save as much as $23 million. Despite fewer students and probably fewer school buildings, Fenty said yesterday that more money is needed to fund the basic cost of a child's education in the District.

"This fits in line with what we've been saying since Day One. . . . We want to make sure the money gets to the kids," Fenty said.

School finance expert Mary Levy, director of the Public Education Reform Project for the Washington Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, said the administration's more recent funding requests reflect a sober reality of the high costs of turning around a low-performing school system.

"I always thought that what they came up with a year ago was wishful thinking," said Levy, who has studied D.C. school budgets for more than a decade. "They assumed they could hire consultants who would find millions and millions of dollars in waste fraud and mismanagement. And of course, they didn't."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company