More than two dozen young people lobbied D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee for school equity and additional resources during a meeting at the DCPS Central Office on Oct. 28. (Courtesy of DC Public Schools)
More than two dozen young people lobbied D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis Ferebee for school equity and additional resources during a meeting at the DCPS Central Office on Oct. 28. (Courtesy of DC Public Schools)

From the very beginning, many of the high school students who participated in a recent budget hearing at the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Central Office focused on how to further diversify citywide academic offerings and encourage in-boundary enrollment to institutions they say have been publicly maligned.

In their appeals for expanded access to career academies, extracurricular activities and teacher training, some people like Shaniyah Robinson, a Southeast resident and sophomore at Ballou Senior High School, proudly touted their decision to attend their neighborhood school, telling peers that they didn’t have to travel far to adequately prepare for college and career.

“I want to go into the law field but I’m going to graduate with a certification in hospitality, so I wouldn’t be getting paid the minimum wage,” said Shaniyah, the first of more than two dozen young people from D.C.’s traditional public high schools, opportunity academies and other programs who spoke Monday.

“Once we got to Ballou in the ninth grade, we had to pick one of the programs,” Shaniyah added. “I picked hospitality so I can open my own business. It’s good to travel to a good school right up the street from you.”

Monday’s gathering laid the groundwork for an upcoming budget process that will determine how much in funding the DCPS Central Office, and each of its schools will receive next year. The review of student enrollment projections by principals and school leaders has been scheduled for November. Those projections, oftentimes calculated with data going back four academic years, inform the school budgets shared with the aforementioned parties in early 2020.

In April, the DCPS Central Office submitted an $874.9 million FY 2020 budget proposal. Local funding from the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula included an enrollment increase of 2.2 percent — nearly 50 percent lower than what the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) recently reported.

On Oct. 22, Chancellor Ferebee and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced the results of the OSSE student headcount, revealing that more than 51,000 students enrolled in D.C. Public Schools for the 2019-2020 academic year, the highest amount recorded in 50 years. These latest figures place DCPS closer to its goal of 54,000 students by 2022, as outlined in its Capital Commitment Plan.

This year, enrollment increased across the board, particularly in the opportunity academies, feeder programs and high schools. Out of the nearly 2,000 additional DCPS students, 900 attend their neighborhood school. DCPS’s ninth-grade class has also grown to its largest size in six years.

DCPS officials cited excitement about newly modernized buildings, focus on feeder schools and in-boundary engagement and strong student and family programming as key causes of the significant increase. Such trends, they contend, indicate a stronger embrace of District public schools, particularly those near residents’ homes.

“We never saw the level of increase in one year like the one we saw this year,” said Claudia Lujan, DCPS’ deputy chief of school planning and enrollment. “Projections are just estimates and our overall accuracy has been good, but we want to figure out how to adjust methodology to make sure we allocate most accurately on the front end and to ensure we are planning for the growth that we’re seeing.”

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Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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