Yesterday, I wrote about a column in the Washington Post by Anthony Williams calling for a four percent increase in the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. The same day, Twitter ignited with the news that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser had agreed to include the additional spending in her fiscal 2021 budget. If approved by the Council, this will be a tremendous help for schools desperate to stay competitive with teacher salaries.
Mr. Williams in his piece talked about the revenue available to the District for such an investment. He wrote;
“The Office of the Chief Financial Officer recently announced the collection of $280 million in unanticipated revenue in fiscal 2019 and is projecting nearly $518 million in additional revenue over the next four years.”
In an article by the Post’s Perry Stein about the new incremental school spending she adds,
“Bowser’s announcement comes just days after her administration announced the city has a $1.43 billion rainy day fund.”
The reporter also included some interesting statistics about public school spending in the District of Columbia:
“In all, the mayor plans to spend about $989 million in city money on the District’s traditional public school system. The total spending figure represents an average increase of 8 percent for each campus in the traditional school system, with some of that boost reflecting expected growth in enrollment.”
More money for our students is big news, however, a couple of paragraphs in Ms. Stein’s story really caught my attention:
“But many schools — especially in Wards 7 and 8, the swaths of the city with the highest concentrations of poverty — have struggled with enrollment in recent years. Teachers have said they feel hamstrung, with declining enrollment leaving them with less funding and inadequate resources to serve their students and attract new ones.
Smaller schools are more expensive to operate and, with the opening of new campuses in the traditional public and charter sectors, the city has an increasing number of campuses with many vacant seats. A total of 38 high schools educate nearly 20,000 students in the traditional and charter sectors.”
The reality of underutilized traditional school school buildings, while nothing new, should at this point in our city’s efforts at public school reform drive a complete rethinking of the actual number of DCPS schools that are truly needed, how consolidation could lead to improved academic achievement for students, and which buildings could be turned over to the charter sector that desperately needs them.
Spending more money is easy. Realigning resources to match student needs is much more challenging. We have heard time and time again that parents do not care if a school is a regular one or a charter. They just want a quality education for their children. We have also listened as people across this town have called for coordination of resources between DCPS and charters.
Now is the time for real leadership.