Open Letter to Mayor Bowser and City Council on the Search For a New DCPS Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education

A coalition of DC Education and Equity Advocates today released an open letter to Mayor Bowser and City Council on the search for a new DCPS Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education. The letter calls for an open and inclusive process in selecting a new DCPS Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education. Mayor Bowser announced that the searches would begin following the June 19h primary and the D.C. community is prepared to engage in an open dialogue about where we are more than ten years after major education reforms changed the landscape of DC education. While progress has been made in many areas, there is much room for improvement. For that reason, this diverse coalition is outlining a positive, forward-looking agenda for DC schools and looks forward to engaging with the Mayor and City Council on how this search process can begin that important conversation.

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We Need a Chancellor and DME to Support DCPS and Make Mid-Course Corrections

Open letter to Mayor Bowser and City Council on the search for a new DCPS Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education

June 27 , 2018

We write to you today as a diverse coalition of parents, teachers, community members and advocates from all 8 wards who believe all students deserve a neighborhood public school of exceptional quality that is a matter of right, not just choice. As you embark on the process of selecting a new DCPS Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education, we ask that you consider how both of these appointees as well as this process may serve as a starting point for the positive, constructive agenda we articulate below.

We’re now over a decade into education reforms. We’ve invested in state-of-the-art facilities, expanded curricular options, increased pre-K 3 seats, and ensured higher teacher pay. These were the right things to do, but there is still so much more to be done. At the same time, the narrative of success does not match reality. NAEP scores were growing faster in the several years before the reforms than they have in the years since. The achievement gap is now wider than it was in 2007. While the city has many strong matter-of-right elementary schools, it has struggled to retain families in most of our neighborhood middle and high schools. Overall, the share of DCPS students has decreased every year, and with almost half of students in DC attending publicly funded charter schools, commutes across town are often a burden. Teacher and principal turnover is at a crisis level in DCPS and charter schools and despite higher pay, morale among teachers is often low. And recent scandals for attendance, graduation accountability, and residency have further eroded community trust in DCPS.

For all of these reasons, our city must undertake a Chancellor selection process that fully and broadly engages the community, acknowledges what isn’t working, and takes concrete steps to chart change. We remain ever hopeful our system can regain its footing and make improvements that genuinely improve our system for all stakeholders--most importantly our students and families.

The next chancellor has the opportunity to set a positive, forward looking, research and experienced- based agenda for DC schools. Our diverse coalition of experienced stakeholders offers a starting point in this letter. We need leadership committed to shifting the culture to one that is collaborative, teaching- and-learning centered, community-engaged, equitable, honest, transparent, and supportive of school-based educators to win the commitment of teachers, principals, students and families. We need leadership who can improve and strengthen our school reform culture.

It may be tempting to simply champion a stay-the-course approach, but we believe this is an opportunity to make DCPS even stronger. We need leadership willing to both identify what’s gone right as well as open and willing to identify areas for improvement and make mid-course corrections. Recent scandals point to the huge gap between the rhetoric of reform, the day-to-day experience of our schools’ students, and elevate the challenges we must address in order to have our education system work for all kids.

Let us begin this conversation from a common set of facts:

Annual progress measured by the Department of Education’s NAEP reading and math test scores these past ten years has actually been less than in the years before the so-called reforms were implemented. Budget analyst Mary Levy has shown that while 4th grade math scores, in DCPS and charter schools combined, improved annually by 3.2 scale points from 2000 to 2007, from 2007 and 2017, they improved only 1.8 scale points annually. Before 2007, 8th grade reading scores for black students increased 2.1 points annually, but only 1.15 points since. If the 2007-09 improvements were credited to the pre-reform policies where they probably belong, then much of the progress since reform would be even worse. We understand the desire to focus on raw point gains--but doing so ignores the racial and economic achievement gaps that we have done little to improve. Recent NAEP scores for 2017 confirm another year of little to no progress on student achievement measurements, with scores for the bottom 25% of students declining and the achievement gaps by race and income widening between 2015 and 2017.

Insisting on staying the course now would mean:

  • accepting a huge racial/ethnic achievement gap, endangered matter-of-right schools in high-poverty neighborhoods because of heavy reliance on test scores for school quality ratings, excessive focus on test prep, frustrated and disengaged parents and community members, a culture of fear and stress among the teaching staff, unreliable data, and a lack of honest research on what’s working.
  • accepting the high turnover among teachers and principals that has not abated since it began in 2007. Twenty percent of teachers and twenty-five percent of principals leave DCPS each year. In our highest poverty, lowest-performing schools, teacher turnover is 33%--and it’s even higher in many charter schools. This is not simply a matter of differential turnover. While DCPS points to 94% retention of highly effective educators, those numbers vary widely depending on the school and include many educators who have been consistently rated effective or highly effective except for the one score on the year they left the system. These turnover rates are substantially higher than those of similar urban districts where achievement gains have been at least as fast, if not faster, than DCPS.

The Next Chancellor and Deputy Mayor for Education Must Be Prepared to Change Culture.

The path to improved student learning and better matter-of-right schools in every ward must include the following:

● A Stable, High-Quality Staff of Teachers and Principals in DCPS – Teaching and learning centered schools require a stable staff of adults that students, especially the most vulnerable, can relate to. First, principals should receive longer contracts that allow them to establish and implement good faith, sustainable efforts and build trust and community with staff and families. Second, we should encourage teachers to innovate, collaborate, and mentor each other in order to better improve instruction, reach students, and create a vibrant, professional school culture and provide training and other resources teachers say they need to strengthen their knowledge and skills and grow professionally. Third, we must move away from the punitive IMPACT system, designed to rank and rate educators rather than improve teaching. According to teachers, IMPACT contributes to teacher dissatisfaction and churn, particularly in high poverty schools, and incentivizes databending shortcuts like grade inflation and lowered graduation standards. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t evaluate teacher performance and seek to retain the most effective educators- but we must build a more collaborative and less oppositional system that encourages teachers, coaches, principals and support staff to work together for the common good of our students. Such systems exist, and we look forward to playing a role in supporting smart reforms to teacher evaluation that achieve this end.

● A Rich, Broad Curriculum Everywhere – Educate the whole child instead of focusing primarily on reading and math skills. As shown by research and experience, a broad, challenging curriculum including science, social studies and arts is the best way to improve student learning, including in the early grades.

● Equitable Funding – Provide resources adequate, and tailored, to student need in all schools. That means additional resources and staffing allocated according to a weighted student formula to target students significantly behind grade level for intervention. Deploy additional staff to work directly with high-need students and high-need schools. Ensure schools receiving at-risk funds are able to use those funds for specific strategies and supports they need to help at-risk students.

● Listening to Individual Schools – More Responsiveness to What School Communities Need and Fewer Top-down Mandates – This means DCPS’s central administrators would shift to collaborating with each school to create a dynamic, trusted, innovative learning culture—not the other way around. The current approach – Central Office rolling out top-down strategies to be implemented with fealty, whether or not they work and make sense at each school– is not viable. Support each school’s staff, parents, community members and secondary students to conduct comprehensive needs assessments and develop and implement individualized school improvement plans addressing that school’s needs. Central Office needs to support greater school autonomy and creativity, rather than impose system-wide uniformity. While one school may need twenty electives, at another school that mandate might unfairly impact staffing and create virtually empty classes and extra teacher preparations instead of using those staff resources where they are needed most.

● Fixing a Broken Discipline System that Disproportionality Harms Children of Color and Children with Disabilities - Far too many children of color and children with disabilities are suspended or otherwise disciplined in the District schools, often for ordinary adolescent behaviors, conduct related to a disability or resulting from trauma. A comprehensive change to the approach to student behavior that is trauma informed and eliminates bias is essential.

● Community Schools –Greatly expand the community schooling approach of wraparound services to overcome students’ non-academic obstacles to learning, such as health and housing; expand extended day and extended year offerings, including sports and civic engagement activities; reach out to parents and families to involve them in school life and support their children’s learning at home; and empower educators to innovate and apply their professional judgment in how schools operate.

● Learning from What Works and What Doesn’t – Honest, Transparent and Independent Data and Research – We know so little about what’s working. Every year there are new initiatives, but which work and how do we know? No research is done to find out. We need to collect a wider range of data about how we’re doing. The data need to be impartially analyzed and publicly reported by independent researchers. Useful data, like parent, teacher and student satisfaction surveys, staff turnover rates, and the results of programs implemented and dollars expended, need to be both collected and made public. A simplified star rating system will only exacerbate these problems. Parents need access to a full view of what’s working and not in our schools, and boiling complex environments down to a star rating may only further erode trust in our public schools and exacerbate racial and class divisions in the city.

● A Respectful and Trusting Environment of Enthusiastic Engagement – Collaborate with each school to create a welcoming, respectful, trusting and enthusiastically engaged environment for all school staff, students, parents and community members.

● Work to Eliminate Racial Segregation in Schools – The District schools remain largely segregated by race more than 60 years after the decision in Bolling v. Sharpe. The overwhelming majority of African American students go to all Black schools. The new superintendent must address the current state of separate and unequal.

● Reform the Modernization and Stabilization Systems of Our School Buildings. Too many schools have not been modernized, and schools that have been modernized are not adequately maintained. We cannot build students’ knowledge when the buildings are in constant crisis.

● Matter of Right Pre-K 3 and 4 and clear path from PreK- 12- Universal access to pre-school is just a starting point. Now it’s time to ensure all families have a matter of right pre-K- 3 and 4 program in their neighborhood DCPS school and a clear path of quality DCPS schools so that students can attend quality DCPS schools from Pre-K to 12 in their own neighborhood. Choice does not solve this problem. Instead, we’ve seen increased school segregation that actually harms students.

● A Robust Technology Plan for All Schools- We must ensure equity in the distribution of both technology and access to technology-based learning throughout our city. Leaving this up to chance has resulted in a continued digital divide that mirrors socioeconomic status of students, which exacerbates our opportunity and achievement gaps.

● The Next DME Must Ensure Quality Matter of Right Schools in all Wards- The next DME must believe in the power of our neighborhood schools and work in partnership with the chancellor to strengthen the matter-of-right neighborhood schools and their feeder patterns and deliberately work to strategically build enrollment. The current lottery system and continued unfettered expansion of charter schools providing duplicative services with DCPS is inefficient and counter-productive. With 21,000 more seats than students, we cannot keep opening and expanding charter schools without doing irreparable harm to the system of matter-of- right neighborhood schools, which are the guarantors of public education. The Cross-sector Task Force failed to grapple with this most pressing problem. The new DME must prioritize a rational plan for how best to efficiently provide for quality matter-of-right public schools in every neighborhood and in every ward, and this must take precedence over the business interests of charter operators. The Mayor and D.C. Council have authority over all our schools funded by public tax dollars and responsibility to decide the public education landscape. Charter schools represent roughly half of our student population. As such public charter schools must be truly public and operate under the same standards as public schools, including being subject to FOIA and the Open Meetings Act. Additionally, if charter schools receive public funds for facilities, the process by which those funds are used and the schools expanded must be clearly outlined, transparent, and with the full knowledge and approval of the community first, not last or never.

Strong Community Engagement Will Earn Trust and Develop Understanding to Set the Stage for the Success of the Next Chancellor and DME.

We believe the recruitment and hiring process for the next Chancellor needs to follow the law. Under the previous process, there were opportunities for public comment, but not a sufficient opportunity for the public to make a serious impact on the final decision as mandated by the law.

Sincerely,

The Capitol Hill Public School Parent Organization (CHPSPO)

Citizens for Effective Schools

EducationDC.net

Education Town Hall- We Act Radio

EmpowerEd DC

NAACP DC

Teaching for Change

Ward One Education Collaborative

Ward Five Council of Education

Ward Seven Education Council

Ward Eight Education Council

Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs

Washington Teachers Union (WTU)

and 125+ individual signers

 

C4DC Resolution: On the Bill Before the DC Council to Establish a Research Advisory Board and Collaborative

Whereas DC Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Robert White Jr, Charles Allen, Vincent Gray, Phil Mendelson, Brianne Nadeau, Elissa Silverman, Anita Bonds, and Trayon White, Sr. have co-sponsored the “District of Columbia Education Research Advisory Board and Collaborative Establishment Amendment Act of 2018,” and,

Whereas the Council included $500,000 in the FY 2019 budget and budget support act considered on first reading on May 15, 2018 to pilot such a program and,

Whereas C4DC believes independent research is critical to continuous improvement of public education; and,

Whereas the Act calls for creating a sixteen-person advisory board including representatives from DCPS, the DME, OSSE, PCSB, SBOE, parent organizations, DC education non-profits, the WTU, the principals’ union, and DC community representatives; and,

Whereas the Advisory Board, staff and DC Auditor will be charged with proposing to the DC Council the design for a long-term structure for an independent research entity; and

Whereas the collaborative will prepare “state of public education” reports each July; and

Whereas the Advisory Board and DC Auditor will hire an executive director and staff but also contract out independent research projects;

Be it therefore resolved, that the C4DC supports the principle of independent research and a representative advisory board, and the bill titled “The District of Columbia Education Research Advisory Board and Collaborative Establishment Amendment Act of 2018” and urges the Council to include its proposed $500,000 funding for FY19 to pilot such an initiative and to hold hearings on and enact a law based on the proposed bill before the start of FY19. 

Signed By the Following Groups:

Ward 1 Education Collaborative
Ward 3/Wilson Feeder Education Network
Ward 4 Education Alliance
Ward 5 Council on Education
Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization
Ward 7 Education Council
Ward 8 Education Council
Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators
Teaching for Change
EDUCATIONDC.NET
EmpowerEd
Washington Teachers Union
Washington Lawyers Committee
WeAct Radio

C4DC Budget Tool 2018

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

>> Methodology and criteria to develop the Budget Tool

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).

Enrollment

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. 

At-Risk dollars

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.    

Net result

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.

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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 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. 

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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. 

C4DC members testify on the future of school reform in DC

In late March, several C4DC members testified at the hearing held by the DC Council Education Committee on the future of school reform in DC. At this critical juncture for public education in our city, it is important to have a thoughtful, honest, and data-rich conversation on how we move forward with school reform.

Read excerpts and download C4DC members' testimony below:

Cathy Reilly's (of SHAPPE, the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators) testimony

Excerpt from Cathy Reilly's testimony:
"We have to believe that an evaluation and planning task will be overseen by leadership that wants to see a strong DCPS and that we have the policy structure to make that possible.  You [ the DC Council] have the opportunity with your review of our current structures and the required approval of a DME and chancellor to set us on a corrected course and make these things possible."

> Matthew Frumin's testimony

Excerpt from Matthew Frumin's testimony:
"It is very hard to look at the overall data and make the case that "reform" has been a triumph... We owe it to our students, families, communities, the people who work so hard in our schools and taxpayers to take a hard look at what is working and what ¡s not and to reject the culture of self- congratulation that has been the norm since 2007 until the recent scandals pulled the curtain back and worked to inspire an increasing demand for truth."

> Mary Levy's testimony

Excerpt of Mary Levy's testimony:
"First, there are enormous inequitable discrepancies in general education funding in next year’s local school budgets.  When funding for the variable special needs (at-risk, special education, ELL, Title I) is filtered out, there are variations of thousands of dollars per student unrelated to academic or other student needs.  Schools of similar size can have wildly different funding.  ... Second, the DCPS central office is enormous.  According to the most recent statistics from Census Bureau fiscal reports, DCPS central office spending in 2015 was 11 percent of total current expenditures, compared to 1 percent or less in surrounding districts.  DCPS is spending $2,170 per pupil, which is ten times the US average of $218."

> Allison Criner Brown's (of Teaching for Change) testimony

Excerpt from Allison Criner Brown's testimony:
"At the end of the day, the proposed FY2019 budget is set to continue trends of under-resourcing D.C.’s public schools, overburdening teachers and administrators, and exacerbating the opportunity gap between high-income and low-income students. It is imperative that the D.C. Council: 1) increase the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula and charge the DME with revising the Adequacy Study 2) ensure at-risk funds are distributed and used appropriately, 3) increase funding for restorative justice, community schools, OST programs, and Birth to Three legislation, and 4) critically examine the DCPS modernization schedule and funding with regards to PACE prioritization."

> Suzanne Wells' testimony

Excerpt from Suzanne Wells' testimony
"It is critically important for our city to take an honest look at where we are after twenty years of school reform... While the Mayor sees these things as “bumps,” that doesn’t seem to show an understanding for some of the serious structural problems that have come about over the last twenty years of school reform in DC."

> Valerie Jablow's testimony

Excerpt from Valerie Jablow's testimony:
"But one improvement must underscore all: T
he driver of all public education in DC must be the democratic right to an education in local, municipally run schools. Public education is not creating only schools with high test scores or replacing the public in our schools with private groups who promise to do better--or with a small cadre of public officials making decisions in private. Nor is public education about creating or expanding schools when existing ones have deep and unmet needs."
 

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If you are interested in coordinating voices in the conversation on the future of school reform, please write us at c4dcpublicschools@gmail.com

 

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. 

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