Wednesday, the DC Public Charter School Board testified before the D.C. Council’s Education Committee regarding its fiscal 2019 budget. As part of the discussion Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, pointed out that several months ago the Deputy Mayor for Education, who must have been Jennie Niles at the time, suspended or stopped talks around reforming the way charter schools are paid for enrolled students.
The subject is important due to a few reasons. For years charters have explained that the methodology for the manner in which they are provided their per pupil revenue for instruction is flawed. As we know, charters receive money through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula based upon an October count of the number of pupils sitting in classrooms. There is actually a designated day on which this record is made. Here are the problems:
The number of pupils attending a public school throughout the school year changes. For charters, this statistic is more likely to go down, and for the traditional schools the total may increase. Individuals can see these trends for each school on the Equity Reports. But as far as reimbursement goes, the cash paid to schools does not vary with enrollment during the school term. Therefore, in regard to charter schools, the per student payments could be higher than they should actually be receiving.
Mr. Pearson stressed that although charters may be at a disadvantage if the manner in which enrollment is measured is modified, there is a unintended consequence of the count. Charters, he stated, are reluctant to back-fill slots throughout the year because accepting new students does not bring additional money. It is his wish that enrollment payment reform would provide charters a financial incentive to take more students after the October report.
There is another concern with these revenue calculations. DCPS is also paid based upon the number of students in each school, but these number are not derived from a count. It is instead based upon an estimate made the prior year regarding the number of students that will be attending each site. The amount of cash is not corrected when this estimate is inaccurate. This is unfair compared to the way charter payments are determined.
Councilmember Grosso, Education Committee chairman, added that he thought that the goal of the discussions around enrollment payment reform was also to include the use of the My Schools DC lottery to aid in coordinating student transfers between schools and between sectors. Apparently, this effort has also stalled. He added that he may use the D.C. Council to reignite these efforts.
Mr. Cruz, the newly confirmed chair of the DC PCSB, opened his organization’s testimony by saying this about the facility issue facing charters in the nation’s capital:
“While there has been some progress, our city needs to have a larger conversation about school facilities and whether it is appropriate for our public charter schools to have to rely on the commercial real estate market. Without a more holistic solution for these facility issues, many of our students will continue to attend school in substandard facilities.”
I sincerely hope that behind the scenes the PCSB is making a much more forceful and frequent argument for the release to charters of more than one million square feet of vacant space in the form of closed and underutilized DCPS buildings.