The D.C. school system is hoping to boost the city’s alternative high schools next year, proposing in its 2017 budget to put an additional $4 million toward programs that help students who are generally lagging far behind in school.
The proposed $910 million budget for the 2017 fiscal year represents a $30 million increase from fiscal 2016, a rise that takes into account projected enrollment increases and fluctuations in federal grants.
D.C. Public Schools last year focused its budget priorities on traditional high schools, allocating nearly $13 million to expand Advanced Placement course offerings, extracurricular activities and career academies. The city had put a spotlight on middle schools during the prior year, hoping to encourage parents to keep their children in D.C. public schools after they leave elementary school, a critical transition when some choose to leave for the suburbs or move to charters.
One of the biggest spending increases in 2017 aims to ensure that students in the city’s four alternative high schools graduate with job opportunities. The school system plans to hire an additional 15 teachers and four administrators for these schools.
Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she doesn’t hope to increase enrollment at the city’s alternative high schools but wants the system to ensure that the schools — which sometimes carry a reputation of warehousing students for whom there are no easy educational solutions — provide the same opportunities and hold students to the same academic standards as traditional high schools.
The city also is beefing up its alternative offerings within the city’s traditional high schools, allocating $1.2 million to hire nine “directors of pathways” — staff responsible for providing individualized education plans for students falling behind.
“If you pulled out every kid who is overage and under-credited or off track in traditional high schools, some of our traditional high schools would fall apart,” Henderson said in an interview with The Washington Post. “It’s looking at the whole enchilada and making sure that we have the infrastructure, whether you remain in your traditional building or if you need to be in a different setting to address the needs of all the young people we see.”
Alternative high schools — which focus on students who don’t have success in a typical school environment — offer small class sizes and flexible schedules, and they can be more effective for students who need to work during parts of the day or have small children.
The four-year graduation rate across all city public schools in 2014 was about 65 percent, and that figure was sometimes far lower in the city’s alternative high schools.
At Luke C. Moore and Washington Metropolitan high schools, the five-year graduation rates were about 56 percent. At Roosevelt STAY and Ballou STAY — alternative programs at traditional high schools for students at least 17 years old — the five-year graduation rates were below 12 percent.
The students at the alternative high schools are typically older: Eighty-two percent of students at Luke C. Moore in Northeast are between the ages of 18 and 24. D.C. Public Schools has 1,378 students the system considers overage and under-credited, meaning they are not on target for graduation in the typical time frame.
Henderson said the proposed budget also will target funding toward reaching D.C. teenagers who currently have no connection to the school system.
“I believe all is all, and we have to provide all of our kids with a world-class education,” Henderson said. “We are in the human potential business, and we have to do everything we have to for them to reach it.”
An additional $5 million in the proposed budget will go toward extending the school year for nearly 4,000 students in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) announced earlier this month that 10 D.C. public schools will have 20 more school days per year.
In addition to focusing on specific programs, the city has spent a growing amount of money on its teachers during the past five years. Between fiscal 2013 and fiscal 2017, the teacher force in D.C. Public Schools increased by 18 percent. The budget allocates $440 million on teachers in the upcoming fiscal year, compared with $386 million in fiscal 2013.
The budget also calls for a significant amount of money — $5.6 million — to fund new programs. The Empowering Males High School, which will focus on educating minority boys, is scheduled to open next school year. MacFarland Middle School and Houston Elementary plan to begin dual-language programs, and Eliot-Hine Middle School will soon have an International Baccalaureate program.
And career academies are scheduled to open at H.D. Woodson and Anacostia high schools, the latter of which will be in partnership with D.C. police and will aim to prepare students to become cadets.
Individual schools now have the next few weeks to review their budgets and make any appeals to Henderson. The D.C. Council must approve the spending plan during the citywide budget process.