C4DC Budget Tool & the FY17 DC School Budget Data in Context

Last year, C4DC published a web tool to help understand DCPS school budgets. We have updated that tool for the FY17 school budgets.

>> Explore the FY17 DC School Budget tool here

>> Find the methodology and criteria to develop FY17 School Budget Tool here.

(The data reported in the current version of the tool is from the initial school budgets. Once the submitted budgets, reflecting changes in response to individual school petitions, are available we will update using that 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.

This Year’s DC School Budget Data in Context

The initial budgets added $75 million for DCPS and charter schools combined, as a result of enrollment increases and a 2% inflation adjustment. (See Mayor’s Transmittal Letter, Frame 21). Charters received $46 million of that increase given the significant increase in enrollment in that sector (according to the CFO, growth of 1,991 from 38,962 to 40,953). The other $28.9 million went to DCPS (with growth of 826 from 49,190 to 50,016). (See CFO’s Transmittal Letter, Frames 28-29).  

It appears that approximately $19 million of the DCPS increase made its way to DCPS schools. (See Mary Levy's Workbook on the FY17 School Budget.)  

Reduced “Buying Power”

Nevertheless, a number of DCPS school communities have indicated that despite nominal increases in their budgets, they have experienced reduced “buying power” – the ability to fund necessary staff positions or provide for supplies. This has not been the case for all schools, but it is a significant enough phenomenon that it bears some explanation.  

First, the budgeted costs of positions increased by small amounts, but that adds up over the many positions funded by DCPS schools. The cost of a teacher went up $765, of a Principal by $7,101. Almost all positions went up by some amount. Approximately $6.8 million of the increase to DCPS schools was used to cover the increased cost of positions (see the FY17 DC School Budget Workbook).

Second, DCPS shifted certain costs that had not been carried on school budgets to school budgets. For example, a number of DCPS high schools have two JROTC positions. In past years, the school budgets have funded one position and the other (while the salary was listed), was not included on the school budget: it was paid from other sources. In the budgets for the coming year, the salaries for both JROTC positions are on the school budget, funding for the second position is included in the total, increasing the apparent total budget, but not changing the available staff in the school. Approximately $3.0 million of the $19 million increase to schools reflects such cost shifting from central or other sources to schools (according to the FY17 DC School Budget Workbook).

Third, whileDCPS added dollars for general education programming on the order of $7 million, DCPS created an unfunded mandate that displaced its capacity to deliver approximately $7 million in general education services. The way this worked is that DCPS moved from a Master Educator system of teacher mentoring and evaluation funded from the budget for the Central Office to a school based system – LEAP – funded through school budgets. Outside of the 29 pilot schools where an element of the LEAP program – Teacher Leader Innovation (TLI’s) – is being supported, the LEAP program added responsibilities to schools but not funding. Teacher leaders, selected from current staff, will be mentoring other teachers for a significant part of the day and not teaching.  This will increase the teaching load for the remaining staff or necessitate additional staff to cover release time for the Teacher Leader. At the 29 schools (out of over 100 DCPS schools) at which the TLI component of the LEAP program was piloted, DCPS provided approximately $3 million in FY16 to fund “release time” -- to fund staff to back fill when Teacher Leaders are out of their classrooms. Mary Levy has calculated that the new LEAP obligations represent an approximately $7 million unfunded mandate (see the FY17 DC School Budget Workbook).

Additional Programs & Costs

At the same time, the FY17 budget expands certain special programs and adds others (on the order of $12 million) and eliminates or reduces others (on the order of $10 million).  (See here). The net increase of approximately $2.25 million represents capacity to deliver additional services. These kinds of programs, however, turn up at some but not all schools.

Thus, the $19 million increase in DCPS school budgets is accounted for by the increased cost of positions ($6.8 million), shifts of costs to school budgets ($3 million), and approximately $7 million in increased funding for general education programming and the net increase of special programs added or expanded and those reduced or cut ($2.2 million). In the meantime, however, the increase in general education spending is offset by the approximately $7 million dollars in general education functions that schools are required to absorb within their budgets associated with the new LEAP mandate.

The net result is that funding in FY17 for schools to do new things, as opposed to paying increases in the cost of positions or cover costs or functions shifted from central to them appears to be on the order of $2.25 million.

DCPS, meanwhile, according to the CFO, saw an enrollment increase of 826 students (see CFO’s Transmittal Letter, Frame 29) and is opening two new schools (MacFarland and Empowering Males).

This is not to be critical of the innovations mandated in this budget. LEAP, hopefully will prove to be a very successful model. School-based employees deserve to see their compensation rise. Reflecting all costs in a school on the school budget makes for greater transparency. Moreover, there will always be a certain amount of evolution and change of programs from year-to-year. But these phenomena together help explain why some schools have experienced both nominal budget increases and staff or service cuts. 

In the meantime, as outlined more fully by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute's post, "Are DCPS Low-Income Schools Shortchanged When It Comes to Supplemental Resources for “At-Risk” Students?", DCPS is still grappling with how to distribute “at risk” dollars which are intended under the law to be used to support services for “at risk” students. As such, at risk dollars are intended to supplement, not supplant general education dollars. Unfortunately, there is a pattern of using significant portions of the allocated at risk dollars or general education purposes, thereby merely supplanting general education dollars.   

In sum: There is little or no additional buying power

In sum, while not the case for all schools, overall there is little or no additional buying power in the DCPS budget for the local schools for next year. Given the increase in enrollment, the opening of two new schools and the practice of using some of the at risk dollars for general education or entitled purposes, it is not surprising that some schools are experiencing staffing and other cuts, making it more difficult to fully serve their students. Hopefully, to the extent such specific needs are identified, they can be raised in the budget process this spring, and, if needed, solutions can be crafted either in the form of additional appropriations or shifts from the central office to schools.  

* * * * * * * * * 

BACKGROUND

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 Title I and Title II federal funds, a portion 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. DCPS deviates from the pure staffing model approach in some instances – 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. 

 

Proposals to Enhance Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment of 2015, B21-0115

Several Coalition members have worked together to draft proposals to enhance a bill as introduced by Councilmember Grosso and Councilmember Silverman that is currently in front of the Committee on Education: Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment of 2015, B21-0115.

The paper, Transparency, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility for Publicly Funded Charter Schools in DC, outlines proposals to strengthen this bill and possible future legislation and provides background material pointing to opportunities to enhance transparency. This paper is to be presented at the October 14th hearing held by the DC Council Committee on Education on B21-0115, Public Charter School Fiscal Transparency Amendment Act of 2015.

Recent reports Informing our Proposals

Letter to Mayor Bowser on the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force

In a letter sent today to Mayor Bowser, the Coalition for DC Public Schools & Communities urged that the soon-to-be-launched Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force include strong public participation and be informed by and build on the Vision and work of the Student Assignment Committee.

The letter — signed by 12 education organizations in the city, including Education Councils from all eight wards — begins:

"We are pleased to see that Deputy Mayor for Education Niles is launching this important effort on cross-sector collaboration and coordinated planning.... As your Administration works to set-up this task force, we wish to emphasize three points:

  1. Build on the recommendations from the Student Assignment Committee that received a clear message from a wide cross-section of city residents, 
  2. Maintain an open and transparent process, with extensive public access to information, and
  3. Include a majority of city parents and community leaders on the task force."  

>> Read the full letter to Mayor Bowser urging greater public participation in the Cross-Sector Collaboration Task Force

The letter was signed by the following organizations: 

  • Ward 1 Education Collaborative
  • Ward 2 Education Network
  • Ward 3 – Wilson Feeder Education Network
  • Ward 4 Education Alliance
  • Ward 5 Council on Education
  • Capitol Hill Public School Parents Organization (“CHPSPO”)
  • Ward 7 Education Council
  • Ward 8 Education Council
  • DC Language Immersion Project
  • DC Fiscal Policy Institute (“DCFPI”)
  • 21st Century School Fund
  • Senior High Alliance of Parents Principals and Educators (“S.H.A.P.P.E.)

The letter concludes with an invitation to the mayor to work together on this project as it moves forward.  

C4DC School Budget Tool

We are excited to launch a new interactive tool to help people understand and analyze the DCPS individual school budgets in the context of school budgets generally. 

>> Access the new C4DC School Budget Tool here

The tool focuses on General Education funding – provided to serve all students -- but also shows funding for children with special needs, including: Special Education, English Language Learners or At-Risk Students and some federal funds for children in poverty.

Background: 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. See the DCPS Per Pupil Funding Analysis (frame 358 of the Mayor's proposed FY16 budget). These funds cover both central office and local school functions. DCPS also receives Title I and Title II federal funds, a portion of which are allocated to individual schools. 

Second, as outlined in the DCPS FY2016 Budget Development Guide, 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. DCPS deviates from the pure staffing model approach in some instances – specialty, stabilization and per pupil minimum funds.

There is no perfect way to allocate funds among a broad array of schools. Following the introduction of the at-risk weight last year, the allocations this year represent a further improvement in equity and adequacy, a trend the can only be strengthened by thoughtful input by stakeholders. This tool is intended to facilitate such input.

How The C4DC School Budget Tool Works

The front page 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 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. (The one exception to that rule is that in FY 2015, At-Risk dollars did not follow the students so the band for At-Risk dollars in FY 2015 reflects discretionary DCPS priorities.)

We believe both of these measures help inform analysis of school budgets, though a focus on General Education funding has been lacking and we are pleased to be able to show the data in that format.

One final note on the data, no two schools receive precisely the same amount per pupil under either measure. Given the differences in students served and the efficiency in some areas for larger schools (economies of scale), that is not surprising. Indeed, there is a predictable pattern (though not an ironclad rule) that larger schools benefiting from economies of scale 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. 

Next Steps in the Budget Conversation

We hope to refine the C4DC School Budget Tool in response to user input and to continually advance transparency and accountability in our school budgeting process through access to and analysis of increasingly open data.

We hope you find this tool useful as we think together strategically about how we can put our education investment to the most productive and equitable use. 

>> Explore the C4DC School Budget Tool

Proud to launch C4DC, a coalition with strong roots of thoughtful leadership and productive activism

Today, we are proud to announce the launch of C4DC, the Coalition for DC Public Schools and Communities. 

Our members have been working together, often ad hoc, over the past few years on many important education reform efforts. The basis of our work is Six Principals for Public Education in Washington, DC, a set of beliefs that members of the coalition developed last year to guide the next steps in ensuring the best possible public education system in DC. 

Read More