Petition: Fix The Schools Budget

Circulating now: a petition to the city council to reject the 1.5% increase in the per pupil funding for public schools that the mayor has proposed for FY18 and increase it to at least 3.5%–with additional demands of DCPS for transparency in the use of those additional funds; for starting the budget process in October with communities and schools; and for a capital plan by January to complete all DCPS modernizations in the next 8 years.

See background information and sign the petition here.

Perhaps the most amazing document in that background information is one created by Oyster-Adams LSAT co-chair Emily Mechner, growing out of testimony she gave before the council’s education committee during the recent budget hearings. Using her knowledge as a professional economist and understanding of school budgets through her work on the LSAT, Mechner notes how DC school budgets have recently not kept up with either inflation nor increasing costs in DCPS schools, such that what appear to be even large annual increases fail to cover what is actually needed:

“Schools with substantial populations of ELL, at risk, and SPED students need to use large shares of their resources to provide the targeted services that these populations require. What is left to serve the general education population leaves them with overcrowded classrooms and ever-tightening constraints that make it difficult to serve everyone’s needs. Core services are sometimes maintained by diverting at risk and other supplemental allocations to those functions. Schools that serve a less needy population and don’t get a lot of supplemental funds are forced to make cuts outright.”

In this time of budget strife, where the chancellor appears politically unable to act on behalf of DCPS in any way except by making lemonade out of rotten budgetary lemons, maybe it’s time for the council to align its stars and actually answer the question I and others asked at the DCPS budget hearing, which was:

Does DC have a black budget for creating new school seats every year without fiscal consequence?

Addressing this budgetary elephant in the room might be a bit more productive than the dead silence and averted eyes I got in response to my question above. After all, if we do indeed have a finite budget in our city–as I and many other parents have been told every time we advocate for our schools–then fiscally conscious decision makers among us will want to apply that principle everywhere, right?

Be sure to sign the petition and pass along to your neighbors.

2 thoughts on “Petition: Fix The Schools Budget

  1. Would appreciate a little more on the term “black budget.” It sounds like one that does not see the light of day as DCPS’s budget does, but I’m not sure that’s the same meaning you have.
    Thanks.

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  2. Oh sorry–I assumed this was in the air of DC! “Black budget” refers generally to any budget that is publicly funded but mostly unseen by the public, because it is used for clandestine government activities. The federal government’s “black budget,” for instance, amounts to more than $50 billion annually and includes all sorts of things (technology, missions, etc.) that people at agencies that operate in the open would love to have (and often don’t). See here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/national/black-budget/

    In the context of this blog entry, I was referring to the way in which our city approves new schools, which makes it appear that there is utterly no fiscal concern whatsoever in doing so. As such, it appears that there is a separate, unseen (“black”) budget that ensures that a new school can be approved without any effect whatsoever on existing schools or their budgets (which includes enrollments).

    In reality, of course, this is not true–there is only one education budget in our city and a finite number of students!

    But our policies do not reflect that reality whatsoever, as we do not tie the approval, location, size, or function of new schools to any budgetary considerations whatsoever, including perhaps the most important metrics, the commensurate growth of our student population and existing seats.

    Instead, we act as if there is an unseen budget that covers all new schools–so the more the merrier!

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