Did You Know About the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Working Group?

Well, it might be surprising if you did:

On July 12, OSSE (the office of state superintendent of education) announced that this group (here denoted as the UPSFF working group) was formed. The group is by law mandated to oversee how best to implement a uniform per student formula through DCPS and public charter schools.

The working group’s first meeting was June 29.

Notwithstanding the (remote) possibility that members of the group traveled back in time to have their first meeting (June 29) before the group was officially announced (July 12), the UPSFF working group has an admittedly odd cast of characters chosen by OSSE.

According to the law that establishes the group, it must be comprised of “at a minimum, representatives from DCPS, public charter schools, and the public, to solicit input and recommendations regarding revisions to the [funding] Formula.”

Currently, of the group’s 23 members, only ONE is an actual DCPS representative: the chief of staff for outgoing Chancellor Henderson. The other members represent government agencies (5 members); finance experts (4 members); and one student/school advocate (Cathy Reilly, SHAPPE).

The other 12 members of the group (52%) are representatives of charter schools (8 members); a charter management organization (2 members); a charter advocacy organization (1 member); and the head of the DC charter board (1 member).

Whatever one might think of our state education agency making dubious arithmetical calculations (1 DCPS representative doesn’t equal multiple people from DCPS, nor can that one person, representing 4% of the group’s members, equal 52% of the group’s members representing charter school interests), the truth remains that enforcement of the law regarding public education in DC isn’t always a priority—as we have seen in another sphere.

Now, all this might not matter if the UPSFF working group was discussing something rather low-stakes and blissfully optional (tomato varieties for school gardens? color options for library rugs?).

But it’s not: it’s discussing how funding will follow students in a public education system roiled by school choice and high mobility—something that has consumed the last three meetings, no less, of the cross-sector task force, which is now poised to issue possible options and recommendations regarding student mobility and funding before soliciting public opinion on them.

(Both the UPSFF working group, and the cross sector task force, are directly under the purview of the deputy mayor for education.)

Moreover, the UPSFF working group is having these discussions in terms that are unambiguously cut from the same cloth of a lawsuit that two DC charter schools and a charter advocacy organization have brought against the city—with the help of one of the organizations (FOCUS), whose representative is a member of the UPSFF working group.

As Cathy Reilly, executive director of SHAPPE, noted in a July 26 letter to the deputy mayor for education, that lawsuit, which alleges unequal funding between DCPS and charter schools and has yet to be decided in court, “has the potential to either drastically cut DCPS funding or overfund charter schools. The extreme unbalance of this committee is alarming, first because it must not have concerned anyone at OSSE or in the office of the deputy mayor for education, and second, because it sends the message that the Executive is not committed to a representative and fair process.”

Responding a day later to Reilly, the head of OSSE, Hanseul Kang, noted that DCPS would be adding representatives to the UPSFF working group, including school staff.

But that doesn’t really get to the crux of the problem, does it? A month later, the composition of the UPSFF working group has not changed at all.

Moreover, the law calls for “at a minimum” representatives (plural) from DCPS and the public–so where are they? The group has already met and is well on its way to formulating recommendations, so that time is almost past—if not actually gone.

Maybe you (and 500 of your BFFs) can cast your sunshine on this if you can figure out where the next meeting of the UPSFF working group will be held on Wednesday September 7, from 3-5 pm.

Good luck.

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