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D.C. increases education spending by $70 million

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser in April. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

D.C. officials said additional money has been allocated for the city’s traditional public schools to avoid a recurrence of a budget deficit.

The city increased education spending for fiscal year 2020 by nearly $70 million in June, which city officials said was sufficient to keep up with rising teacher costs. 

In the previous budget year, the traditional public school system recorded a deficit of about $10 million, and Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, said the budget increase for fiscal year 2020 will be spread between the traditional public and charter school sectors. Under federal law, students in the charter sector and the traditional public school system must receive equal funding.

“The school system has worked with the Office of the Chief Financial Officer to significantly reduce the budget gap mainly through savings in non-personnel spending and strategic hiring in central office, all within DC Public Schools’ own budget,” Kihn said in a statement. “Further, we have solved this DCPS gap equitably going forward by increasing the fiscal year 2020 [uniform per student funding formula] for all schools, both District and Charter.”

The traditional public school system, which has an almost $1 billion budget, faced a budget deficit of more than $25 million earlier this year. The school system was able to close more than $15 million on its own. The mayor’s office said it would help close the rest, although that has not been finalized.

Kihn said the city has until Nov. 7 to finalize its books. Under D.C. law, agencies cannot carry debt from fiscal year to fiscal year.

“We also continue to explore equitable solutions to resolve the budget gap for fiscal year 2019 by November 7,” Kihn said.

But the effort by the mayor’s office to help the traditional system during the recently concluded budget year drew a rebuke from some charter leaders, who said the city should not be giving additional money to one sector and not the other.

“We call upon you in the strongest terms to adhere to the legal requirement that all funding to DC public schools shall be equal and uniform; and denounce any remedy to this fiscal shortfall that would reward overspending while punishing those who live within their means,” Ramona Edelin, executive director of the advocacy group D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, wrote in a letter that she said she plans to deliver to city officials. Edelin has been collecting signatures for the letter from charter leaders in the city.

Kihn said the school system employed more effective and experienced teachers than it had anticipated, which translated into higher wages and contributed to the deficit. He said the additional money is intended to prevent another deficit.

This story has been updated to clarify that additional money for the District's traditional public schools was put in the budget in June, not more recently.

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