DCPS School Budgets for the 2018-19 School Year in Context
Since 2015, C4DC annually has published a web tool to help understand DCPS local school budgets. The tool now has initial budget data by school covering the 2014-15, 2015-16, 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years.
>> Explore the updated C4DC Budget Tool with 2018-19 school year data
At the end of this post, find a general explanation for how the school budgeting process works and an explanation of how the C4DC budget tool operates.
The DCPS Budget Data in Context
The purpose of this tool is to try to support transparency and eventually better planning. There has been much talk in recent years to moving the planning process up, more deeply engaging school communities in budget planning and allowing for greater transparency. Unfortunately, none of that happened in the development of the budgets for the coming year. That could be the result of transitions at DCPS or a choice. It is imperative that DCPS make the kinds of changes to the culture around school budgeting it has acknowledged need to be made for years.
Challenges in year-to-year comparisons
One challenge in seeing the data for the coming year in context is that the available data represents the submitted budgets. Last year, given the significant shortages in the submitted budgets, funding was added in the Council review process, but it is not possible on an apples-to-apples basis to add those dollars into individual school budgets. Moreover, the implementation of the long overdue and well-deserved teacher raises creates an apparent significant increase in nominal budgets to employ the same personnel. (See the Mayor’s Budget at Slide 1 suggesting a 6% or $55 million increase). (As an illustration of the post-submitted budget changes, see a chart on FY18 local funds showing an addition of $38 million for DCPS in local funds and a reprogramming of $4 million from capital to operating, moving local funds to $832 million in the current year compared to $846 million for next year (see the Mayor's Budget at Slide 2).
The projected enrollment for budget purposes for the next school year is the same as the projection for the current year -- 50,243 in both years. (See current year at slide 14 and next year at slide 14.) It is important to note though that audited enrollment in the current year – at around 48,600 – fell around 1600 short of the projection. It could be that DCPS expects 1600 more students than it had last year at the start of the next year. However, the sum of the projected local school enrollments for next year fall closer to the audited enrollment for the current year. It is possible that DCPS has built in additional enrollment in the budget to prepare for the reality that a significant number of students come to DCPS mid-year, after the formal audit.
The Budget Tool attempts to provide insight into the use of At-Risk dollars which under the law should be used to serve students qualified as At Risk. (The projected figures for At Risk students also are identical -- 25,023, almost exactly 50% – for the current year as for the coming one. (See current year at slide 14 and next year at slide 14.)
The data initially provided by DCPS on this subject is less transparent than in previous years. DCPS reportedly intends to provide a detailed report on this subject which could shed more light, but based on the data provided and extensive efforts to isolate uses for which At-Risk dollars could have been used, as in past years, it appears that on the order of 45% of At Risk dollars supplanted as opposed to supplemented general and special education dollars. DCPS provided the Council a breakdown of the use of At Risk dollars suggesting 55% were used for clear At Risk functions.
Our analysis was able to establish that the At Risk dollars for general education supplanted staffing model requirements rather than allowing for extra services for At Risk students. Staffing for Special Education is more complex and less transparent so we were unable to determine the extent to which the use of At Risk dollars for Special Education supplemented as opposed to supplanted existing dollars. See the DCPS School Budgets for the 2018-19 School Year without identification of at-risk dollars (the DCPS spreadsheet as modified for generate the data shown on the budget tool can be found in this Workbook for 2018-19 School Year Budgets).
Shifting functions and budget from the central office to schools
Last year, we noted that there were significant new mandates placed on schools which had the effect of shifting functions and budget from the central office to schools or simply adding functions to schools without adding budget. While those shifts have not been reversed, there also have not been significant new shifts in the budgets for next year. The two minor changes relate to funding for JROTC and for LEAP. In both cases, the changes added very modest new burdens to some schools.
The school budgets for the coming year sum to $693 million leaving $300 million from the full DCPS allocation of $993 million. The submitted budget for the current year showed around $631 million used in schools (but note the added $42 million described above, part of which was added to local school budgets) and $937 million allocated to DCPS overall (see the DCPS Report on Use of Funding Added by the Council), again leaving $306 million used in other accounts. Some of these funds are used for food service, transportation and security, for example, as well as for the Central Office. It is hard to determine exactly how much is devoted to the Central Office in this budget. DCPS has indicated an intention to move a significant number of people from the Central Office into vacancies in schools. Historically, DCPS has allocated a disproportionately high amount to central office functions. (See DCPS Central Office Spending Over Time). Increasing transparency in this area should be a priority in the budget process this year and going forward.
The net result of all of these factors appears to be that while the bottom line budgeted amount for schools in the coming year appears significantly higher than last year and the per pupil amounts appear higher, largely attributable to the needed and appropriate significant increase in teacher pay, the overall budget for DCPS schools for the 2018-19 school year appears essentially to preserve the status quo.
The fact that overall the budget appears to be status quo, however, does not mean that individual schools or functions had similar experiences under the proposed budgets. To get a sense of the shifts in the use of funds between the current year and what is proposed for next year, see a Workbook Showing Aggregate Differences Between the Budgets for the 2018-19 and 2017-18 School Years. As examples, Special Education and English Language Learner investments appear to have increased significantly while the buying power for others have been reduced modestly.
It is our hope that this tool can assist school communities to understand their budgets in context.
How the DCPS Budget Process Works
The DCPS budget process is difficult to untangle, involving multiple complex steps.
First, DCPS receives funding from the city through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula, which assigns a foundation amount to every public school child, supplemented by specific dollar amounts for children with specific characteristics. These funds cover both central office and local school functions. DCPS also receives federal grants, including Title I and Title II funds, portions of which are allocated to individual schools.
Second, DCPS allocates funds to schools using staffing formulas – assigning positions and funding for them based on the number and needs of the children in a school plus per pupil or per building amounts for non-staff resources. DCPS deviates from the pure staffing model approach in some instances – special programs at selected schools and specialty, stabilization and per pupil minimum funds.
How the C4DC School Budget Tool Works
The front page of the C4DC Budget Tool shows General Education funding proposed for the coming school year, for this year and the two years compared. General Education funds are local funds intended to serve all children to meet their general education needs. They include enrollment based, specialty, per pupil minimum and stabilization funds.
The second page of the budget tool shows funding from all sources, total funds on a per pupil basis. Often people focus on the total funds a school receives on a per pupil basis. These include local funding specifically targeted for Special Education (SPED), English Language Learners (ELL) or At-Risk Students and federal funds for children in poverty. This can be misleading. Two schools may get very different per pupil amounts because they have different numbers of students within these categories. The width of the bands for SPED, ELL and At-Risk Students shown on the total funds table gives a relative indication of the magnitude of the populations in those categories at each of the schools.
An exploration of the data will show that no two schools receive precisely the same amount per pupil under either measure. Given the differences in students served and the economies of scale for larger schools, that is not surprising. Indeed, there is a predictable pattern (though not an ironclad rule) that larger schools receive lower per pupil funding.
We are very grateful to Coalition members DC Fiscal Policy Institute, S.H.A.P.P.E., Matthew Frumin and the Dean of DCPS data – Mary Levy – for their work on this project, to DCPS for its cooperation throughout and to Code for DC for its extraordinary and generous work developing this tool.