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Local: Education

D.C. Council, residents criticize school-funding formula

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Local,DC,Education,Rachel Baye,Mary Cheh,Montgomery County,Vincent Gray,David Catania

The District's funding of schools based on the number of students they enroll is flawed, D.C. Council Education Committee Chairman David Catania said Wednesday.

All of the city's public schools, both in DC Public Schools and the charter schools, receive money through a formula that is based on the number of students enrolled at each school. This funding method is common in school systems across the country, and in jurisdictions like Montgomery County, where enrollment at public schools has been booming, per-pupil funding methods have been at the center of budget disputes.

But in the District, enrollment growth is not keeping pace with projections. As a result, many schools are seeing their budgets drop despite Mayor Vincent Gray's promise of a 2 percent increase in the number of dollars per student -- at the base level, an increase from $9,124 to $9,306 per student.

The decline prevents the schools from providing the academic programs that would benefit students, Catania said. "This will not stabilize DCPS."

He suggested the city adopt a formula that allows more funding for schools with higher percentages of students who are not native English speakers or come from low-income families, who often need additional support to keep up in math and reading.

For those schools where enrollment — and as a result, the budget — is slated to increase, the additional funds will be spent largely on meeting new systemwide requirements, rather than paying for programs the school's leadership wants, Catania said. "What money does get there, the principal is completely hamstrung in how it gets spent."

For example, DCPS is adding foreign language teachers in elementary schools this year, said Valerie Jablow, a parent at the Capitol Hill Cluster School, meaning other services get cut.

The budget cuts also disproportionately affect middle schools, Catania said, echoing concerns of dozens of residents who testified at a public hearing Wednesday on Gray's proposed DCPS budget.

Because of cuts at Stuart-Hobson Middle School, one of the campuses of the Capitol Hill Cluster School, Mary Melchior, vice president of the Ward 5 Council on Education, said she is looking for charter and private schools for her own children.

Hardy Middle School is slated to have its budget cut more than $500,000 -- 12 percent, according to the school's Parent Teacher Association.

Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh said she is concerned that the cuts at Hardy would send students to non-DCPS alternatives.

"It could not send a worse message," Brian Cohen, Hardy's PTA president, said of the cuts across the middle schools. "There's no sense of where they [in Chancellor Kaya Henderson's office] want DCPS middle schools to be in five years and how to get there."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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