DC mayor proposes student funding increase as council chair criticizes cuts

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced plans Wednesday to increase per-student funding by about $500 in her proposed budget, detailing a $2.3 billion investment into the city’s more than 100,000 students in public and public charter schools.

Council Chair Phil Mendelson criticized the proposal, highlighting several schools serving at-risk students that would have their budgets slashed by thousands under the initial proposal.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee said under the proposed budget, per-student funding would be increased from $5,973 to $6,473. The city is in its second year of using a weighted method of allocating per-pupil funding, with additional weight provided to students who receive special education services or those whose families face financial challenges.

School principals will work with school advisory teams to craft and submit their budgets, which are due March 1, Ferebee said.

“That is pretty reasonable,” Ferebee said of the two-week time frame school leaders face. “We would love to have more time, obviously, but we do need to adhere to some timelines so the mayor can submit her budget to the council.”

Some 20 schools may receive less funding than they did the year before, Ferebee said. The drop in funding is “solely tied to either enrollment at the school that has been declining or other programmatic changes.”

No school will have less than 95% of the amount they had last year, Ferebee said.

Still, Mendelson was critical of the proposed funding, noting that Hendley Elementary School in Ward 8 is losing $299,000 with a minimal change in enrollment, and Tyler Elementary School is losing over $400,000 even though it’s adding students.

The city also missed a Feb. 9 deadline for providing budgets to every school, Mendelson said. He said the Schools First in Budgeting law aims to stabilize school budgets each year.

“I want to be clear that DCPS has no interest in trying to circumvent the law,” Ferebee said. “But we were just under a time constraint, where the timeline to execute on the law and the complexity of our budget as written and also the law is written, we just didn’t have the time to incorporate that into this year’s budget cycle.”

The budget proposal doesn’t include a recently ratified agreement with the Washington Teachers’ Union, Ferebee said, saying it will be addressed “through other channels.” The recent approval and fact that the agreement includes retroactive pay made it complicated to include in the proposed budget, he said.

In a statement, Mendelson said Ferebee is “traumatizing schools” with the proposed cuts. He urged Bowser to adjust the proposal before submitting her budget for council approval on March 22.

“Clearly, the Mayor and Chancellor don’t truly care about the classroom,” Mendelson said. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be cutting classrooms while fattening central administration.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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