EducationLocal

Legislation Aims to Help Schools with High At-Risk Population

As elected officials, agency heads, and constituents across the District continue to mull what will eventually become the fiscal year 2021 budget, the D.C. Council will discuss legislation that would devote additional funding to schools with a significant at-risk student population.

Later this month, the Critical Risk Rate School Funding Designation Act will go before the council’s Committee of the Whole and Committee on Education, not only with the support of Council member Trayon White Sr. (D-Ward 8), who introduced the bill last year, but that of Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), who has signed on as a co-sponsor.

“We’re trying to make sure we’re proactive [in addressing] inequities in Ward 8 schools. Last year, we had a billion-dollar increase in the budget but the school budget was supposed to be cut,” White told The Informer in anticipation of the March 10 hearing at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest.

“With the amount of resources we have, we shouldn’t be taking money from the poorest part of the city,” White said. “This is to address the flaws in the per-pupil [school funding] formula. It’s our job as leaders to create quality schools everywhere in the District. We can’t under-resource a school and expect it to produce at maximum capacity.”

The upcoming hearing will follow the passage of a resolution introduced by White and fellow Council members David Grosso (I-At large), Anita Bonds (D-At large), Robert White Jr. (D-At large), and Elissa Silverman (I-At large). The document, floated around in January, espouses the need for a solution to funding inequities that place Ward 8 schools at a disadvantage.

Earlier this year, D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) officials released a fiscal 2021 budget proposal that includes an eight-percent average increase in allocations for local schools. Nearly two dozen schools — more than half of which are located east of the Anacostia River — will have access to $3.4 million set aside in the chancellor initial budget assistance coffer for midyear enrollment influxes.

At the start of the budget process, the DCPS central office circulated a Pocket Guide with which parents and other concerned parties can navigate the school budget planning process and see the amount allocated to each D.C. public school. Budget proposals also reached Local School Advisory Teams (LSATs) earlier this year, and DCPS officials conducted budget forums across the city.

These developments follow the overwhelming backlash that DCPS and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) faced in the aftermath of a fiscal year 2020 budget proposal that included a budget loss of more than $480,000 for Ballou Senior High School and Anacostia High School. An anticipated decline in enrollment — calculated with the per-pupil school funding formula — made for a dire fiscal situation in schools located in resource-starved communities.

Even Hart Middle School — an institution with a predicted stability in enrollment — lost $132.000 in the proposed fiscal year 2020 budget. In total, 15 Ward 8 schools would have lost more than $10 million.

In June, after students, teachers, parents, D.C. State Board of Education officials, and other advocates stormed the Wilson Building, the D.C. Council approved the Budget Sponsor Act, which directed an additional $5.4 million to 31 underfunded schools — the majority of which served Ward 8 communities — and made adjustments in public safety, transportation, and other portions of the $15.5 billion fiscal 2020 budget.

As the Ward 8 community engages city officials in another round of budget discussions, some people, including Ward 8 teacher Chantal Fuller, said leaders should work harder in aligning funding to the specific needs of the student population at each D.C. public school.

“With these budget cuts, schools [had to use] money needed to provide socioemotional support to cover teachers’ salaries,” said Fuller, a special-education teacher of six years who graduated from Banneker Academic High School in Northwest.

When not in the classroom, Fuller uses her committee assignment in the Washington Teachers’ Union to advocate for the hiring of psychologists and other interventionists who can assist her and her colleagues in meeting the needs of their special needs population.

“We’ve been trying to lobby and encourage LSATs and schools to request more money and fight for positions,” she said. “I don’t think there’s a magic number [for funding]. That’s what most government leaders have us believe. It’s about doing a full-needs assessment for all D.C. public schools for them to get what they need.”

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