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.

The Macro Picture

Despite an apparent increase in spending at DCPS schools in total, the proposed budgets on a macro level reflect a modest buying power cut. Experience at the school level differs significantly with many schools content with their budgets but many, particularly those serving low income students, experiencing cuts in staff and other resources. DCPS continues to struggle with using At-Risk dollars to supplement as opposed to supplanting general education spending which also adversely affects low income students. DCPS projects enrollment gains next year, but enrollment continues to be well below levels prior to FY08 and high school enrollment is projected to decline. 

DCPS added $56.2 million to FY20 school budgets over the total proposed school budgets in FY19. But, that nominal increase is more than offset by other changes affecting the budget

  • $26.9 million due to the increased cost of positions, e.g., the budgeted cost of a teacher went from $104,633 in FY19 to $109,114 in FY20 (a 4.3% increase).

  • $20.7 million due to security costs being moved from central to school budgets

  • $14.2 million to fund three new schools

  • $6.0 million to cover approximately 900 more students in FY20. 

See Comparison Workbook linked here with comparison workbook methodology linked here. The offsets needed to stay even total $67.8 million which in the context of the $56.2 million increase means schools overall are absorbing a $11.6 million cut in buying power. The difference is made up by programmatic cuts, predominantly elimination of extended year programs and reduction of stabilization funding that is supposed to cushion big budget losses. Details of programmatic increases and the decreases that outweigh them appear in this Workbook.

The Experience at the School Level

While this modest erosion in buying power reflects the average experience, the experience of individual schools differs. The web tool linked here provides some perspective on per pupil funding over time and also shows big differences in per pupil dollars among schools. Per pupil spending over time continues to increase but that occurs in the context of the kinds of changes from year to year described above. Thus, nominal increases can be misleading. For a description of the buying power impact of the FY20 budgets in real dollars, see School Impact Workbook linked here

The way this workbook does that is to isolate the increases for security and staff cost. Isolating security is simple because it is a new column in the budgets. Isolating staff cost was done by adjusting FY20 school budgets by applying the FY19 staff costs to the FY20 positions and comparing the results to each school’s FY19 budget. The difference reflects the impact of staff cost increases. Isolating the budget impact of the three new schools next year was also straight forward as they do not appear in the FY19 budgets as proposed. Even after accounting for the new schools, there is an additional increase in projected enrollment between FY19 and FY20 and the costs of that increase are also reflected.

Additional effects result from specific program changes.

·         the elimination of extended school year,

·         changes in the approach to “stabilization” funds that are supposed to cushion large funding cuts due to enrollment declines. One such variation this year was that while security funds were added to school budgets, half that increase offset potential stabilization funding so schools qualifying for stabilization funds saw the allocation of those funds reduced by half the amount of their security funds. This dynamic hit Anacostia, Ballou and H.D. Woodson high schools particularly hard, but other schools felt the effects as well.

·         $1 million increase in Federally appropriated Title I funds for low income students,

·         $1 million for one-star schools per the OSSE report card, at $75,000 each, and

·         adding 8 teachers for DCPS high school electives across the system.

Duke Ellington appears to have taken the largest buying power cut, due to the withdrawal of additional funds that were allotted but never awarded last year and the Columbia Heights Education Campus appears to have seen an increase in buying power but with an enrollment increase of 162 it finds itself with a significant staff shortage.  Budget ups and downs at many schools seem uncorrelated with enrollment changes.

The data show that 56 schools saw declines and 58 saw improvements in buying power. Unfortunately, it also appears that the schools hit hardest by buying power reductions serve low income students and are clustered East of the River. 

Meanwhile, in what has become a persistent problem, it appears again in FY20 that a large portion of the funding intended to supplement general education funding for At-Risk students is supplanting that funding instead. It appears that approximately 50% of At-Risk funds supplanted general education funding. See the FY20 Initial Budget Allocation Data spreadsheet linked here. The web tool separates At-Risk funds in full from General Education and other funds. The ongoing failure to truly supplement general education spending as opposed to supplanting it with At-Risk dollars aggravates the buying power reductions experienced by schools serving low income students.


DCPS FY20 enrollment is projected to be up approximately 900 students from FY19. Some of that is due to DCPS absorbing a charter school and the opening of other new schools. Although that is the largest increase for DCPS in some time, overall DCPS has seen very little growth outside of the Wilson feeder since SY2014-15. And, DCPS outside of the Wilson feeder has seen significant declines – close to 10% in the K through 12 grades – since SY2007-08. Lastly, while overall enrollment is projected to increase in FY20, DCPS high school enrollment continues to lag. The city continues to experience significant erosion in DCPS and charter enrollment combined from incoming Kindergarten enrollment to 6th grade enrollment of the same cohort. That pace of erosion has increased for the last three sixth grade cohorts -- reaching 16% citywide and 17% outside the Deal feeder. See Enrollment Trend Workbook linked here. Low enrollments inevitably push up per pupil costs.


The matter-of-right feeder systems – the DCPS neighborhood schools providing a by right path from elementary to middle to high school -- in large parts of the city remain precarious. The existence of excellent by right options is critically important to families and communities; otherwise they are left to the vagaries of a lottery leading many families to leave by middle school. This challenge is particularly acute for our schools serving low income students. Other schools are not overfunded, but we have yet to more fully invest in our DCPS schools serving low income students. As we seek to do so, we struggle against a current of low and eroding enrollment in those schools. The stabilization policies – protecting against significant budget cuts year-to-year were intended to address that. But given the way stabilization was applied this year, it did not do so and in any case it may not be a sufficient protection against downward spirals. As the DC Council reviews the budgets, it should consider how to remedy this issue, recognizing the importance of successful feeder systems in every part of the city and that the success of the DCPS feeder system in all parts of the city is critical to the success of the system in any one part of the city.