D.C. schools facing budget cuts are poised to get some relief after the D.C. Council voted Tuesday to direct nearly $5.4 million to those 31 campuses.
The funds came as the council made final adjustments to the city’s $15.5 billion budget for fiscal year 202o. The Budget Support Act, which was approved Tuesday, also included tinkers to public safety, transportation and other portions of the spending plan.
The D.C. Council did not allocate additional money to education but rearranged existing funds to target the campuses that anticipated financial hardship, according to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D).
When Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) introduced her budget this year, she proposed a 2.2 percent per-student increase in education funding. The budget the D.C. Council passed included a 3 percent per-pupil increase.
On Tuesday, Mendelson took the difference between the mayor’s spending plan and the more generous increase proposed by the council and allocated it toward schools facing spending cuts instead of spreading it across all campuses. The council budget must still receive Bowser’s signature.
The charter sector, which educates nearly half of the city’s public-school students, would still receive a 3 percent per-pupil funding increase with the money distributed across all charter schools.
Most of the traditional public schools facing budget cuts are projected to experience a decline in enrollment. But because smaller schools are more expensive to operate, leaders at those schools said their allocations did not stretch far enough — even with fewer students. Some schools saw cuts for other reasons even as their enrollments remained steady.
Twenty-two of the schools facing budget cuts are in Wards 7 and 8, the swaths of the city with the highest concentrations of poverty, according to data from the D.C. Council.
“It’s outrageous that we have a school system that is struggling with improving the achievement gap, that is struggling to improve test scores particularly among kids who are at risk,” Mendelson said, “and then to cut the budgets for 22 schools in the most low-income neighborhoods. I wish we had more money to do more.”
Mendelson says the schools facing the biggest cuts will get the biggest chunk of the reallocated money.
But even with the cash infusion, the schools will probably incur some cuts compared with their budget for the just-completed academic year.
City leaders have come under fire for their education spending plan, with critics arguing that the budget does not do enough to serve the schools that need the most help. About 100 teachers, students and parents protested in April, calling the budget inequitable because schools with a significant share of students from low-income families are losing money.
Teachers at schools with declining enrollments said they need more money to afford the robust programming that would attract more students.
D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee has said the school budgets do not show all the investments being made on campuses in low-income neighborhoods. The city is investing more money in mental health services and will use the central office’s budget to support some schools with attendance and special-education compliance, Ferebee has said.
Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), who has 12 campuses in his ward facing cuts, applauded the council’s move Tuesday.
“Even with this success, there is still more work to do,” White wrote in a statement. “I look forward to working with my Council colleagues in the coming months to adjust the school funding formula to ensure equity in funding for schools with the deepest challenges.”