Jonetta Rose Barras: More money for what?

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras,Vincent Gray

Mayor Vincent C. Gray has become a bona fide spendthrift: First, he pledged $100 million for affordable housing and $15 million for nonprofit grants. Then, last week, he proposed increasing by 2 percent the per-pupil allotment for students in the city's public schools -- traditional and charters.

His proposals, arriving at dizzying speed, are expected to be presented next month to the D.C. Council in his 2014 budget and financial plan. That document will be the foundation for Gray's re-election platform, should he seek a second term.

Unfortunately, several council members also are considering a run for mayor. Others, including Chairman Phil Mendelson, will fight to retain their seats. Translation: Don't expect help from the legislature in reining in Gray's spending.

Supporting it is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, especially since it's a major issue for District residents. Unsurprisingly, the mayor's announcement has drawn applause from several sections of the city.

But do District public schools really need more money?

The city already spends about $1.4 billion for public education -- pre-K through 12th grade. The mayor and council hiked by 2 percent the schools budget for this fiscal year 2013. That cost about $86 million, as The

Washington

Examiner's Rachel Baye reported last week.

Despite such an enormous investment, charter schools have whined about insufficient funds for facilities. DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, crying poor mouth, announced the closure over the next two years of 15 schools.

Most troubling, half the 80,000 students enrolled in the city's public schools, including charters, are not proficient in either math or reading or both. And education expert Mary Levy found an enormous achievement gap: 29 percent in reading scores and 74 percent in math between low-income fourth-graders and other DCPS students between 2007 and 2012.

Will more money alone alter those statistics? What's that adage about the definition of insanity?

Poor strategic planning and untargeted resource deployment are the primary causes for the District's public education afflictions. If elected officials want better results, creating undeniable quality experiences for all children, it may be time to consider revising the funding formula.

If no two students are exactly alike, it's safe to assert no two schools are the same. Consequently, funds should be allocated based on need and potential positive academic outcomes -- not some antiquated formula.

Gray and the council may want to consider using that proposed 2 percent increase and other redirected money to establish an Achievement Gap Fund. The money could be allocated to specific schools where there is a preponderance of low academic performers whose test scores have been historically stagnant.

The Achievement Gap Fund could finance extended school days and/or weekend sessions. It could help expand summer school. It also could fund tutors for select schools where additional resources would provide the final push over the 50 percent proficiency line.

Targeted strategic spending could result in documented improvements in student performance. Gray's generally distributed 2 percent hike won't. It will only produce a well-written paragraph in a glossy re-election brochure.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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