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DC Council Education Committee Budget Hearing – Testimony by Elizabeth Bacon, Watkins ES

Good morning. I’m Elizabeth Bacon, a parent at Watkins Elementary School. I serve on the Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA leadership and on the LSAT, and I’ve spent many hours investigating our school budget.

The Cluster School is a Pre-K3 through 8th grade school with 1,300 students at three campuses (Peabody Early Childhood, Watkins Elementary, and Stuart-Hobson Middle School) — with steady enrollment, strong test scores, healthy vertical integration, and students from all over the city.

Per Pupil Funding Minimum (PPFM) Allocation

Over the years, we’ve dealt with funding fluctuations because of enrollment changes and the budgeting premise that there should be a minimum “per pupil spend.” This year, we were fortunate — Watkins received a welcome extra lump sum of $379,000 in order to meet the per pupil funding minimum (PPFM) floor.

This extra funding was meaningful: it allows us to more adequately staff our school of more than 500 students. But because this extra funding is an accounting loophole in the staffing formula for large schools, we worry that we will not be able to count on it next year. What will happen if the DCPS staffing model changes, and the “floor” changes? That means we could again lose staffing: our instructional aides, our counselor and a technology coordinator.  DCPS would say that’s just the way the funding “floor” worked out. But there shouldn’t be so much variance from year to year in funding floors and staffing models. It makes it hard for schools to maintain continuity in programs and staff.

We are also concerned how this bump to reach the “floor” is going to many schools with fewer needs. For example, Deal Middle School received a $2 million lump sum to reach the floor — that’s an extra $1679 per student. What a boon a sum even half that size would have been for Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

 

Middle School Projected Enrollment FARM (SY 2013-14) Per student amount from the PPFF minimum “bump” in FY15 Level of studentperformance
Deal MS 1310 21% $1679 per student Reward
Stuart-Hobson MS 424 57% $0 per student Rising
Hardy 400 55% $0 per student Rising
Jefferson 307 99% $0 per student Reward
Eliot-Hine 275 99% $0 per student Rising

Of the 5 DCPS elementary schools receiving the PPFM in FY15, Watkins has by far the highest number of FARM-eligible students and the second to lowest per pupil funding minimum allocation. Of these 5 schools, Watkins is the only school on the list that is below “reward” in student performance, which is another indicator of need.

 

Elementary School Projected Enrollment FARM (SY 2013-14) PPFF minimum in FY15 Level of studentperformance
Lafayette ES 700 7% $883,418 Reward
Murch ES 680 9% $722,699 Reward
Janney ES 672 4% $864,355 Reward
Eaton ES 477 17% $131,565 Reward
Watkins ES 523 38% $379,176 Rising

At-risk Student Funding & Additional Investment

I followed with great interest the passage of the Fair Funding Act, the Adequacy Study commissioned by the Deputy Mayor of Education, the Chancellor’s top goal to improve middle schools, and the Chancellor’s direction to LSATs to plan for a 10% increase in funding.

Come budget time, I and my fellow education advocates were anticipating additional money to support our school, particularly our at-risk students and middle schools. But in the Cluster School budget, I saw:

  • No allocation to our school marked for at-risk kids and no specific data breakdown for our at-risk students population, according to the categories in the Fair Funding Act
  • No direction to our administration or LSAT to determine how to spend additional funds to really make an impact for the kids who need the most support
  • No sign of additional investment for our middle school beyond  $100,000 extra for “socio-emotional support” (As an aside, an example of real investment would be support specialized programs at each of the Ward 6 middle schools, as DCPS agreed to four years ago — in the Ward 6 Middle Schools Plan — but has yet not funded.)
  • The PWP Student Satisfaction allotment included in the top-line of the budget — which seemed somewhat disingenuous given that money was already spoken for and had came with many strings attached
  • No significant increase in overall funding, as the Chancellor had all but promised

Where exactly is the additional $44 million in support for at-risk kids? Is most of it going to the lowest 40 performing schools? To other “Chancellor’s initiatives”? To the PWP Student Satisfaction allocations?

Where is the explicit investment in our middle schools, as one of the top goals of this budget cycle? To extended day for some middle schools? To socio-emotional support?

Parents and the public deserve answers to these questions from DCPS in a transparent and upfront accounting.

Investment & Continuity

If we really believe in the potential of our public schools — and if we are committed to their success — we need investment and we need continuity in funding. We need investments in our programs and staff and continuity in those investments — not less-than-predictable fluctuations year to year. And we need investments in our fully utilized school buildings — especially not to be asked to wait another year for modern facilities at Watkins Elementary.

——————————

Testimony of

Elizabeth Bacon

Capitol Hill Cluster School PTA and LSAT Representative 

Education Budget Oversight Hearing

Thursday, April 17, 2014  10:00 a.m.

John A. Wilson Building, Room 500

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