Yesterday, Ms. Bowser released her fiscal year 2019 budget, and public education stakeholders are ecstatic that it includes a 3.91 percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. If passed, her proposal would raise the base of the UPSFF to $10,658 per pupil. The reason for the enthusiasm is that last year a working group that convened over six months under the auspices of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education to review the city’s school budget recommended a 3.5 percent increase. However the Mayor, in last year’s spending plan, suggested a rise of only 1.5 percent. The D.C. Council then took this number and doubled it to 3 percent. The 2018 budget also included a 2.2 percent jump in the charter school per pupil facility allotment.
So why the sudden change of heart by Ms. Bowser? Well, a few issues have popped up over the previous 12 months. It was discovered that the Chancellor she hired, Antwan Wilson, had one of his children transfer schools outside of the lottery and in violation of a policy he had created and signed. This led to his forced resignation together with that of Ms. Bowser’s coveted Deputy Mayor for Education Jennie Niles. There are now allegations that the Mayor was told by Mr. Wilson of his discretionary placement months before it was known to the public. At the same time, a WAMU and NPR story led to the realization that hundreds of students received high school diplomas from DCPS facilities in 2017 who never should have graduated. Next, it was uncovered that more than half of all students attending Duke Ellington School of the Arts falsify their home addresses to show they live in the District so they don’t have to pay tuition. A lawyer for OSSE was apparently told by higher-ups not to rush an investigation into this matter because it is an election year.
Finally, last week, there was the Mayor’s State of the District Address, in which she provided no solutions for the recent ills of DCPS, or an explanation of who she would bring in to fill her top two administrative education positions. Tonight is the 2018 FOCUS Gala and Ms. Bowser is expected to attend. Which do you think she would rather talk about, the recent problems with the traditional schools or more money for charters?
The new incremental dollars will also deflect calls for a modification of the structure of Mayoral control over the public schools.
The Washington Post’s Fenit Nirappil, Perry Stein, and Faiz Siddiqui, in an article appearing yesterday, state that the added money for education is not that big of a deal. They write:
“While some education watchdogs celebrated the per-pupil spending increase, Marlana Wallace, a policy analyst with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, said it’s not as high as it appears. According to Wallace, part of that increase covers raises for teachers that came after the union reached a contract agreement with the city for the first time in five years.”
Moreover, before you get too excited about the extra revenue, I feel an obligation to point out Ms. Bowser’s 2019 budget also has a line item for $1.35 billion toward the modernization of another 26 DCPS buildings. Charters do not get a dime of these funds. They have to cover renovation costs out of the per pupil facility allotment.