Mayor says she is ‘confident’ education budget meets students’ needs (Washington Times)
By Ryan M. McDermott - The Washington Times - Monday, April 17, 2017 Education advocates on Monday called on the D.C. Council to reject Mayor Muriel Bowser’s per-student funding increase for next year, saying it falls far short of what city schools need. “Now, more than ever, we must make the investments necessary to ensure that every student — on both sides of the river and both sides of the park — have the resources and support they need to be successful,” said Markus Batchelor, Ward 8 representative on the D.C. State Board of Education. Mr. Batchelor said schools in his ward need extra funding to be “equipped with the tools necessary to close gaps in academic achievement, student wellness and family support.” The mayor’s fiscal 2018 budget calls for a 1.5 percent increase in per-pupil payment to D.C. Public Schools.
But that proposal is less than the 2 percent increase that has been the standard in the city over the last 10 years. Currently, base funding per student is nearly $10,000 before factoring in funds for special needs or at-risk students. Miss Bowser and other city officials have defended the budget regarding education funding. At a press conference after she had presented the budget to the council, the mayor said she was “very confident that we are responding to the needs of our schools.
Schools Chancellor Antwan Wilson echoed Miss Bowser, telling The Washington Post that he is “confident that we have what we need.” And City Administrator Rashad Young told reporters before the budget announcement that it had to balance several priorities, including a rising number of students in the system. Groups like the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute and Democrats for Education Reform have pointed to recommendations from Miss Bowser’s own education advisers who said the city needs to raise its per-student funding. The D.C. Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE) recommended a 3.5 percent increase, but most education advocates said they would have settled for the standard 2 percent hike. In a January report to the council, OSSE said the city should raise the per-pupil base rate from $9,682 to $10,021 to keep up with students’ needs. A 3.5 percent increase would provide the proper funding and “the greatest flexibility to meet the diverse needs of the greatest number of schools, and schools with varying demographic populations, including alternative schools, charter schools and DCPS schools,” the OSSE report says. If city officials think the District can’t fund a 3.5 percent increase, the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute said there’s money to be had in the tax cuts set to be triggered by the District’s recent economic prosperity. The progressive think tank said the city should “delay some or all of the scheduled tax cuts if that is needed to adequately support schools.” And Democrats for Education Reform said that even the standard 2 percent increase would go a long way. “By failing to increase per-pupil spending by at least 2 percent, city leaders would shortchange our students: teachers would lose jobs, crucial extracurriculars would face cuts, and school budgets would not keep pace with rising inflation,” the group said. The council, which is holding hearings to evaluate each agency’s budget, has the authority to change Miss Bowser’s per-pupil funding. The Education Committee is to hold a public hearing next week to hear from residents about the mayor’s schools budget, but at least one lawmaker already is beating the drum for a per-pupil funding increase. Last week council member Vincent Gray called on his colleagues to increase per-pupil funding by 4 percent. Mr. Gray, a former mayor who is eyeing a run against Miss Bowser next year, has criticized several aspects of the mayor’s budget since it was introduced two weeks ago. “I am deeply concerned about the repeated disinvestment by the executive in our public schools,” said Mr. Gray, Ward 7 Democrat. “This budget threatened to put school reform in reverse.” Education advocates backed his call for a 4 percent increase. Irene Holtzman, executive director of the education reform group FOCUS, said it “ensures schools have the resources they need to do right by every student.” Shawn Hardnett of Democrats for Education Reform said the increased funding will allow schools to attract and retain great teachers and offer a richer curriculum. Mr. Batchelor also showed support for Mr. Gray’s plan. “Many of the school communities I represent in Ward 8 are facing some of the largest cuts in funding in the city while the need grows larger every day,” the school board member said.