Bush Proposes Giving D.C. $32 Million More To Boost School Reform

By David Nakamura
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008

The White House plans to announce Monday that it has proposed giving the District $32 million in additional federal funding this year for public education, including a special $20 million payment aimed at helping Mayor Adrian M. Fenty restructure public schools, federal officials said.

The recommendation, contained in the White House's overall proposed D.C. budget, directs the funds toward a series of enhancements for the nearly 50,000-student public system and the 20,000-student public charter school program.

Among the proposals for the traditional schools is an incentive-pay program designed to reward teachers whose students meet specific performance goals, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said. About $5 million would go toward replicating successful charter schools, and $7 million would go toward beefing up programs in low-performing schools.

"The package includes an infusion of resources to jump-start the mayor's robust reform strategy for D.C. Public schools," U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said in a statement.

"These targeted investments are a critical catalyst for the types of innovation that have been lacking for too long in the Nation's Capital," Fenty (D) said in a letter to Congress supporting the White House's D.C. budget request. "These initiatives will spur improved instruction and services, directly benefiting students in the classroom."

Typically, the school system funnels $120 million a year in federal funds to its schools. In 2006, the U.S. Department of Education declared that the school system was a "high risk" for mismanaging federal funds.

District officials called the proposed influx of new money a breakthrough and said it shows the federal government has confidence in the Fenty administration's school reform plans. The budget requires approval from Congress.

Since Fenty downgraded the Board of Education and took control of the school system in June, he has been working on a number of changes. Yesterday, Fenty and Rhee announced a revised list of 23 schools that will be closed, including 16 this fall.

Rhee's office is working to increase the public schools' fiscal 2009 budget by about $17 million in local funds, to a total of $794.6 million in local money.

Under the proposed federal education budget, the city would get $18 million in each of three categories: for public schools, for charters and for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program. Each of those received between $13 million and $14 million last year.

An additional $20 million would come to the District in a one-time payment to support the Fenty administration's reform efforts. That money will be earmarked to help support and train teachers and principals, develop new programs for low-performing schools, improve data reporting for student accountability and help start the teacher incentive-pay program.

The District schools have not had an incentive-pay program, Rhee said, but she is in the process of developing one, in conjunction with the Washington Teachers' Union. She declined to talk about specifics but said support from the White House shows that federal officials think she is serious about improving performance.

"When I say performance pay, I will not water it down and create ridiculous incentives that don't move student achievement," Rhee said. "I do not think it's normal for the federal government to give this amount to a school district, but my track record of doing different things made them believe I could do this."

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