Education

Ward 8 Residents Dig in as School Budget Discussions Begin

As D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) budget proposals for FY 2021 start to make the rounds, teachers, parents and others who live east of the Anacostia River say they want to ensure that their neighborhood schools receive funding reflective of their student population’s unique academic and socioemotional challenges.

Even with the creation of a chancellor’s budget assistance fund that softens the blow of mid-year enrollment increases, some, like local teacher Michael Grier, wonder if Wards 7 and 8 schools will find themselves struggling to meet the needs of former charter school students seeking trauma and behavioral interventions in the District’s public school system.

“Does the D.C. Council understand the impact of school closures — such as Washington Metropolitan and public charter schools — on neighborhood DCPS communities? The percentage of students struggling with attendance, truancy, trauma and educational needs are increasing in neighborhood public schools,” Grier, chair of the Ward 8 Education Council, said while lamenting over the need for computers and technology that DCPS’ central office announced earlier this year.

“While concerns of mid-year transfers from charter and private schools to a neighborhood public school are increasing, schools are being impacted by the needs of some students,” Grier continued. “Local schools are concerned whether the D.C. Council plans to closely look into the impact this is causing local schools and the demand of resources needed.”

Earlier this month, DCPS’ central office released its Pocket Budget Guide, a platform in which parents and other concerned parties can navigate the school budget planning process and see the amount allocated to each D.C. public school.

The release of the Pocket Budget Guide counted as part of a year-round budget process. It accompanied a Family and Community Guide to the DCPS Budget and followed public budget hearings and forums at Maury Elementary School and Brookland Middle School in Northeast, Coolidge High School in Northwest and Ballou High School and Kimball Elementary School in Southeast.

DCPS officials say budget proposals reached Local School Advisory Teams months earlier than in previous years to give principals more flexibility in petitioning for additional funds. Notable investments in the FY 2021 budget include $2.1 million for the Connected Schools Model that provides wraparound services for students and their families while also increasing technology and bolstering literacy at the elementary school level.

As in previous years, D.C. public schools receive an initial budget allocation based on a comprehensive staffing model which factors in enrollment projections for the upcoming academic year and demands for special needs accommodations.

The FY 2021 budget reflects an average increase of 8 percent in budget allocations for local public schools. Additionally, nearly two dozen public schools — more than half of which are located east of the Anacostia River — will have access to the chancellor’s initial budget assistance. This coffer of $3.4 million has been set aside in anticipation of mid-year enrollment increases.

Last April, a report by the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute found that public schools in Wards 7 and 8 count among 17 out of the 20 institutions that experienced a decrease in funding in the FY 2020 budget, due mostly to projected enrollment decreases. Ballou and Anacostia High School, for instance, had been expected to lose nearly a quarter of their student body.

Overall, Ward 8 saw a decrease of more than $10 million in funding which sparked Washington Teachers’ Union-led protests on the steps of the Wilson Building.

Ward 8 parent LaJoy Law, an advocate for children with disabilities, said last year’s per-pupil budget allocations for Ward 8 schools deeply disturbed her, conjuring thoughts about students being denied accommodations outlined in their 504 plans and individualized education programs.

She commends DCPS’ central office for its efforts in improving transparency within the budget process.

“If leadership is trying to move forward with transparency, that’s a step in the right direction. The problem won’t be solved tomorrow. It will take stakeholders to rectify all of the challenges happening at the same time,” said Law, a Ward 8 resident of nearly nine years.

“It’s about equity — not giving all the schools the same amount of money but making sure every school has what they need to serve students, so that students, principals and staff can thrive.”

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