D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser released her proposed 2020 budget this week and it has some good news for charter schools. First, she is requesting that the charter school per pupil facility fund be increased another 2.2 percent to $3,335. This would be the second year in a row that this number would go up by this proportion. The jump is important, because as Two Rivers PCS’s executive director Jessica Wodatch explained at last night’s 2019 FOCUS Gala, the cost of construction in the nation’s capital is rising tremendously.
Still, I’m not quite sure about the Mayor’s strategy here. It seems like instead of turning over vacant DCPS buildings to charters she is encouraging them to rent space in the commercial real estate market. Wouldn’t it be preferable to have these schools lease from the city instead of turning taxpayer money over to developers? What am I missing?
In addition, the mayor’s budget blueprint also has the per pupil expenditure rising by 2.2 percent. However, Irene Holtzman, FOCUS’s executive director, stated that this number is insufficient:
“FOCUS is pleased that Mayor Bowser delivered on her commitment to increase the facilities allotment for public charter schools by 2.2 percent. The predictability of facilities funding is crucial to public charter schools as they plan to make needed improvements to their buildings or lease facilities to accommodate their student bodies. This is a wise long-term investment that helps ensure that the nearly 50 percent of students attending public charter schools have buildings that enhance, rather than hinder, their experience.
Simultaneously, we are concerned that the increase to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) falls short of the needs of all D.C.’s students. The 2.2 percent increase in the base UPSFF does not keep pace with the District’s funding pressures or inflation, and increases the gap between the current level of funding and the city’s own definition of funding adequacy as defined in the 2013 report Cost of Student Achievement: Report of the DC Education Adequacy Study.
In addition, a broad coalition of advocates for children and youth have been working diligently to ensure that our schools have the mental health supports they need to manage the level of trauma experienced by our students. Not increasing the funding to support at-risk students will leave schools scrambling to ensure that our most vulnerable students have the supports they need to be successful in school.
We urge the D.C. Council to remedy this gap in funding by making at least a 3 percent increase in the UPSFF, and, better yet, funding a 4 percent increase that, if followed annually, could get DC to ‘funding adequacy’ in five years. In addition, Council should prioritize increasing the at-risk weight to enable schools to continue to grow and strengthen the wraparound supports we know our students both need and deserve.”
I did some poking around the budget and I stumbled on something fascinating. Embedded in the document is an admission from the Mayor that all public funding for both charters and the traditional schools must come through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. Here is the exact language:
“The District’s public charter schools receive Local funding through the UPSFF. This system of funding was established by the District of Columbia School Reform Act of 1995 and was designed to ensure that all public schools across the District receive the same level of funding on a per-student basis, regardless of what neighborhood the school is in or where students live. The UPSFF is intended to cover all local education agency operational costs for District public schools including school-based instruction, student classroom support, utilities, administration, custodial services, and instructional support, such as curriculum and testing. The UPSFF is based on a foundation amount, which is then enhanced according to different weights for higher-cost grade levels and supplemental funding weights for students with special needs. The FY2020 UPSFF foundation increased 2.2% from $10,658 per pupil to $10,891 per pupil. The average cost per student, based on the proposed enrollment of 44,486 and a proposed gross budget of $898,494,213, is $20,197.”
In other words, the very argument that charters have been making for years that is contained in the FOCUS engineered funding inequity lawsuit against the city is affirmed in the administration’s own budget. Can we now settle this thing and reimburse charters for the approximately $100 million a year in revenue provided to DCPS that the other sector did not receive?
What is the next step?