Bowser announced the education budget on a call with school leaders Thursday afternoon as she told them that she expected schools to be open five days a week in the fall, with all teachers in their classrooms — the city’s most definitive statement yet on what the next academic year would look like. The mayor has not yet announced her overall city budget proposal.
“We have stuck together through this pandemic — now, we need a strong citywide commitment to reopening this fall so that we can meet the social, emotional, and academic needs of all our students,” Bowser said in a statement. “We also know that funding is an essential part of recovery.”
School leaders and local education advocates view next year’s education budget as critical, since most of the city’s public school students will enter classrooms after learning from home full-time since March 2020. Currently, just around 12 percent of students are receiving some in-person instruction, with many in school buildings just once a week.
Under D.C.’s funding model, every student receives the same base level of funding — no matter what traditional public or charter campus they attend. Bowser’s proposal would allocate $11,720 to each student, up from $11,310 this academic year. Each charter student receives funding that goes to their school to pay for facilities.
The 46 percent of public school students who are considered at-risk — which means they are homeless, in foster care or in a family that receives public assistance — would each receive an additional $2,813, an increase from $2,552. That amounts to a $12 million increase. On top of that, a new funding weight would give an extra $703 to each over-aged high school student. These students are considered at high risk of dropping out.
Students who are designated as English Language Learners (ELL) also received additional funding. Bowser proposes a slight increase in funding for these students in elementary school from $5,542 to $5,860. Her budget calls for a separate and bigger funding pool for ELL students in middle and high school, who would each receive about $8,790 in addition to the base funding per student.
But even as the mayor is proposing boosts to spending, 36 of the school system’s 118 campuses are expected to receive cuts to their budgets — and subsequently to their staff. Most are due to enrollment declines or shifts in student populations that receive additional funding, according to Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee. The school system allocated $15 million to help schools facing enrollment drops.
At a D.C. Council hearing last week, parents and advocates argued that schools should not be financially accountable for enrollment drops when the pandemic contributed to shifts. The school system, for example, is expecting a significant drop in ELL students in large part because of the financial hardships these families have endured during the pandemic.
Council members pressed Ferebee on why schools were experiencing cuts as they attempt to recover from the pandemic.
“It isn’t right that so many schools and so many parents and so many employees of the D.C. public school system are right now fighting just to try and keep even on where they are in the current,” said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D).
The latest round of federal stimulus aid is about $386 million. The District’s traditional public systems would get $191 million of the latest round of federal relief dollars. The charter sector will split $156 million among its 66 networks based on a federal formula that factors in enrollment.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education will take $38.6 million of the funding, though the agency has not provided specifics on how it will be spent beyond “a variety of provisions targeting the recovery and acceleration of learning as well as supporting students’ and families’ needs.”
Ferebee has not yet said how he will spend this latest money, but he had previously said the school system would put stimulus money toward intervention programs, teacher training, technology and creative learning models. The school system will not use the school system’s federal funds to hire additional full-time employees, he said.