Mary Levy Testimony – Roundtable on At-Risk Funding – February 1, 2019

At-Risk Funding Transparency

Mary Levy   –   February 1, 2019

Thank you for holding this hearing, and thanks to the Council members who introduced and who supported this legislation.  Since 1980, I have analyzed public school budgets, expenditures, and staffing to determine where the money goes.  For each of the past five years I have worked with the Coalition for DC Public Schools and the DC Fiscal Policy Institute to analyze local school budgets, especially the use of at-risk funding.

Clearly, each year DCPS has used at-risk funding to supplant funds for other programs, in contravention of the DC Code.  My colleagues and I have documented this practice; the Committee on Education itself has consistently made the same finding in annual Committee reports; and DCPS officials have admitted it in testimony to this Council.  Yet it has continued.

This practice cheats at-risk students by using funds designated to services to support them to instead fund services for which all qualifying students are entitled, regardless of at-risk status.  These services include legally required special education and ELL student services as well as general education services provided to all students in each grade level.  Schools with few at-risk students and little money to take have virtually all of their core program funded with regular funds, while schools with large at-risk enrollments have less per pupil in regular funding.  This is classic supplant rather than supplement.[1]

In addition, our analyses show that this practice is inequitable among schools with similar populations.  The siphoning off of at-risk funds varies greatly among individual schools in any given year; some schools lose most of their at-risk funds to supplanting and others very little.

There already being a law against using at-risk funds this way, the proposed legislation is an important further step in securing more effective services for at-risk students.  I see two main strands:  transparency and an increased role for local schools in determining the best use of the funds.   Transparency in the form of full information both in budget formulation and in reporting on actual use of funds is important and necessary.  Sunshine makes a difference, and the specific provisions here will help prevent the budget fait accomplis that we have experienced, where mis-allocation becomes visible only when it is too late to correct.

Having the plans for use of at-risk funds formulated by principals and Local School Advisory Teams brings in the expertise of those closest to individual students and their needs.  This was part of the original enactment providing at-risk funding, and the Council was right the first time.  The Chancellor will retain the ability to amend inappropriate plans, and the incidence of siphoning at-risk funds off for core program use will probably be eliminated.

Please enact this legislation.



DCPS officials have argued that they cannot afford to fully fund the core program services provided to all students regardless of at-risk status.  More money from the Council would be helpful, but even without it, there are at least three alternatives available:

(a) Rethink general education entitlements: do all students, even the most advantaged, need every single staff/NPS level entitlement?

(b) Reduce funding for programs not based on student need that are available to only a select few schools chosen by criteria unknown. I have a list.

(c) Cut down on central office staff, who are much more numerous and much more highly paid than was the case 12 years ago

As to alternative (c), according to the most recent statistics from Census Bureau fiscal reports, DCPS central office spending in FY 2016 was 10.8% of total current expenditures, compared to the U.S. average of 1.9% percent.  DCPS is spending $2,260 per pupil, which is ten times the US average of $226.[2]  For many years I have categorized DCPS employees by whether or not they serve students directly, which is what most members of the public want to know when they ask about central office or “administration.”[3]   The number of central office full-time equivalent staff performing the same functions that DCPS now performs has risen from 516 in 1981, when we had 95,000 students to 626 in 2007, when we had 52,000, to 797 this year for about 49,000.

Below are November 2019 counts of central office staff with common titles.  Certainly the system needs some number of these people.  Those who are really good are worth a great deal.  But do we really need 45 Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs?  86 Directors?  180 Program Specialists?

Title # of FTEs Title # of FTEs
Chief 14 Program Specialist 180
Deputy Chief 31 Project Manager 73
Director 86 Coordinator 144
Manager 79 Analyst 55
Specialist 84 Program Coordinator 9

If central office were reduced to a more reasonable level, DCPS would not have to appropriate at-risk funds for core program services that are funded with regular funds at schools in well-to-do neighborhoods.

[1] Some alternatives are listed on the reverse of this testimony.

[2] Derived from U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances:  2016, May, 2018 Tables 6, 7 and 19.  These figures are self-reported by DCPS.

[3] The source is lists of DCPS employees, obtained by FOIA or from submissions to the D.C. Board of Education (before FY 2008) or to the DC Council (since FY 2008), based on office of employment, program, job title, purpose of applicable grant funding, and DCPS website descriptions.  Employees performing functions subsequently transferred or contracted out are excluded in the earlier year calculations.


Jessica Sutter Testimony – Roundtable on At-Risk Funding – February 1, 2019

February 1, 2019

Jessica Sutter

Testimony at Council Oversight Roundtable on At Risk Funding Transparency

Thank you Chairman Mendelson and Members of the DC Council for inviting public testimony today. My name is Jessica Sutter and I have the honor of representing Ward 6 on the DC State Board of Education. I am testifying here today as an individual, and not on behalf of the SBOE.

I support the goal of this bill: to help guarantee that the original purpose of the at-risk funding mechanism—promoting equity of opportunity in education—is fully realized. Increasing equity of opportunity for all young people is why so many educators decided to work in or with public schools. But we have not yet realized the goal of providing all DC children with equitable opportunities to succeed and I believe that some modifications to the bill can help us get a bit closer than we are today.

I have three requests to modify the bill as currently written.

First – there is simply a need for more funding to serve students who are identified as “at-risk.” We know this. The 2014 Adequacy Study from the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education recommended for $3906 per student identified as “at-risk.” Our current funding is nowhere near that. In order to best serve the diverse needs of our diverse student body in Ward 6, and all across the city, we need the UPSFF to be adjusted to weight “at-risk” funding at the recommended level. This will benefit early childhood students at Amidon-Bowen ES and AppleTree PCS, it will benefit middle school students at Eliot-Hine and it will benefit young people in the alternative education programming at Kingsman Academy. All Ward 6 students – and all students District-wide – who meet the definition of being “at risk” deserve these funds as a matter of educational equity. I ask that you increase the funding to the recommended level and ensure that school leaders have the power to spend it in ways that can best serve the needs of children in their care.

Second, I’d recommend streamlining the reporting on how at-risk funds are spent. As written, the bill would require LEAs to provide reports to the Council each year that explain how each school used its at-risk funds. Rather than create an additional report, it would be great to see this information reported as part of the DC School Report Card, allowing students and families a chance to gain an understanding of schools’ budgeting priorities and spending histories. This would increase school budget and funding transparency – a matter for which parents and teachers across the city are currently advocating. DC PAVE has selected school funding and budget transparency as one of their key advocacy issues for 2019.

The ESSA Task Force of the SBOE is working with OSSE to establish how data on per pupil expenditures will be displayed on the School Report Card (starting in December 2019), the at-risk funding expenditures could, perhaps be displayed in the same section. This would streamline information for the public, especially families, and it could reduce the administrative burden on schools that are saddled with many reporting requirements to their LEA, to OSSE, the federal government, and other external partners and grantors.

Finally, adding a standardized set of terms and definitions—like a common set of expenditure categories—to the language of this bill would ensure all LEAs are reporting the same data points and pieces of information. It would also allow for easier at-a-glance understanding of how schools use these funds to promote both well-being and improved achievement among at-risk students, and better (if still limited) comparisons across schools. Common categories would allow for public transparency in considering how schools spend these funds, while also acknowledging that the kinds of expenditures that benefit students classified as “at risk” are often hard to tie directly to immediate (i.e. – within year) academic outcomes.

I thank you for your consideration of these recommendations and for allowing me time to speak today.



Grace Hu Testimony – Roundtable on At-Risk Funding – February 1, 2019

Grace Hu
Amidon-Bowen Elementary PTA
February 1, 2019

My name is Grace Hu. I serve on the PTA of Amidon-Bowen Elementary and have previously served on the Amidon-Bowen Local School Advisory Team.  On behalf of the Amidon-Bowen PTA, I would like to thank you for holding this hearing and specifically thank Councilmember Charles Allen for introducing legislation on the important topic of at-risk funding.

Earlier this week Comments on CM Allen At Risk Funding bill Jan 29 2019. Our PTA contributed to and endorses those comments. My testimony today provides additional views specific to our school community.

Chronic underfunding not an excuse to misuse at-risk funding

Amidon-Bowen Elementary, the neighborhood elementary school for Southwest DC, serves approximately 350 students, of which more than 70% have been identified as “at risk”.  Our parents notice that staffing positions are on the chopping block each year and students lack basic resources (e.g., computers to support online testing and curricula, paper, other supplies) in the classroom. We wonder how are we expected to close the achievement gap (and overcome our 2-star OSSE rating) without a serious investment of resources?

But while we believe there is a chronic underfunding of our schools, we also believe that chronic underfunding is not an excuse for the misuse of at-risk fundsAs long as at-risk funding is being used to cover budget gaps at our neediest schools while schools without at-risk funding are provided base positions and resources without this shell game (see footnote [1]) of moving around at-risk money to cover shortfalls, funds that are designed to provide equity will continue to be used to create inequity.

At-risk funds and student achievement

Although the intent of existing law is to improve student achievement among at-risk students, we currently use at-risk funding on things like social workers, psychologists, and afterschool staffing. These provide significant value to our students and families and should be available, but they are not specifically targeted to closing the achievement gap. If we want to narrow the achievement gap, we have to be more intentional about targeting instructional resources to at-risk students. Research shows that biggest bang for your buck in improving student performance is supplementing instruction, for example, providing more staffing to enable small group tutoring and smaller class sizes.

We have seen encouraging early evidence of the impact of supplemental instructional support at Amidon-Bowen. Last year was the first year that Amidon-Bowen employed both a reading specialist and a math intervention coach. The math intervention coach provides small group and intensive tutoring to roughly 30 low-performing students in grades 4 and 5. The reading specialist provides intensive tutoring to 25 low-performing students in grades 2 to 5. The initial results are promising: a higher percentage of students receiving additional math support met their middle-of-the-year growth targets compared to students who did not receive the additional support. 80% of those who met with the reading specialist met their growth goals, and average gains for “below basic” students who met with the reading specialist were higher than those of similarly low-performing students who did not receive this support.

Despite this progress, we’ve been told by DCPS to not expect these positions to be continued in future years. One of these positions was funded with at-risk funds; the other was gifted to us because we could not afford it in our budget.

If we could focus all of our at-risk funding (~$500K per year) on instructional supports with a direct tie to student achievement, we believe our school could make significant academic progress. Instead our at-risk funding is used to cover legally mandated special education (even though the majority of our at-risk population are not students in need of special education services) and other positions that should be covered under a base budget.

Lastly, transparency and other requirements related to at-risk funds should apply to all Local Education Agencies (LEAs) across both sectors to ensure all at-risk students are getting the supplemental support they need and deserve.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

[1] School budgets should be equally funded according to the comprehensive staffing model before at-risk funds are allocated. In Title 1, this is called “Title 1 neutral” and is guidance we follow every year. Instead, in DC it’s easy to tell which schools receive at-risk funds before they’ve been allocated. The budgets of schools with high percentages of at-risk students have holes in core staffing. DCPS then uses at-risk funds to fill these manufactured gaps. Large gaps in core staffing only exist at our schools most in need.


Suzanne Wells Testimony – DC Public Schools Budget Hearing – April 14 2016

Updated 4/15/2016 with final version.

DC Public Schools Budget Hearing

April 14, 2016

Suzanne Wells


Thank you for the opportunity to testify this evening on the DC Public Schools SY2017 budget.  The focus of my testimony this evening will be on middle schools.  My daughter is currently a 5th grader in the Tyler Elementary Spanish Immersion program, and she will be attending Eliot-Hine Middle School, our in-bound middle school, next year.

I want to thank DCPS and the Eliot-Hine principal, Tynika Young, for the efforts over the past several years to work towards Eliot-Hine becoming an International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme.  These efforts resulted in the school becoming an authorized IB programme this past November.  It is my hope the IB programme will provide an engaging and challenging curriculum for all students attending the school.

There is much talk about the middle schools being a weak link for DCPS, and Mayor Bowser even campaigned on the slogan “Alice Deal for All.” While there is much talk about supporting the middle schools, one area that is seriously lacking is the modernization of the middle school buildings.  The recently released Capital Improvement Plan does seem to have budgeted what are believed to be more realistic numbers for the costs of renovations, yet it is not clear how these higher numbers were determined.  In Ward 6, the middle schools are far back in the renovation queue.  Eliot-Hine Middle School is not scheduled to be renovated until 2019, Jefferson Middle School is not scheduled to be renovated until 2021, and Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan which contains a middle school was not even included in the 2017 – 2022 Capital Improvement Plan.  All students starting at Eliot-Hine and Jefferson next year will be in high school before the buildings are renovated, and it will be even longer for the Capitol Hill Montessori@Logan students.  This doesn’t seem like an Alice Deal for All.

These middle schools are struggling, often through no fault of their own.  They face intense marketing from charter schools that often start at 5th grade, and draw away families who are concerned about their middle school opportunities.  The condition of the buildings also doesn’t help to attract families.  When windows have to be opened in the winter because the classrooms get overheated, or the air conditioners in the warmer months are so loud the students can’t hear the teacher, or the lighting is poor, families often look elsewhere for middle school.

Yet these middle schools present tremendous opportunities for DCPS.  For example, the Eliot-Hine building sits on 6.4 acres of land on the edge of Capitol Hill.  It’s not hard to imagine families choosing to send their children to an authorized IB Middle Years programme in a renovated building that meets the criteria for a Green Ribbon School and sits on a 6.4 acre campus that they can walk to each day.

I encourage the Education Council and the Mayor to find a way to move these middle schools up in the renovation queue in the current Capital Improvement Plan.  Respected organizations like the 21st Century School Fund have repeatedly identified the need for greater cost accountability and oversight in the DCPS modernizations.  There should be savings on the modernizations projects since the city will no longer be doing summer renovation blitzes.  There may be opportunities to reduce some of the modernization estimates if we have a better understanding of the estimated square foot costs for the individual school modernizations, and find some can be reduced while still providing high-quality renovations. Savings achieved from greater accountability and oversight, moving away from summer blitzes, and any possible reduced square foot cost estimates could be put toward our middle schools.  Our city’s middle school students are too important to have their modernizations delayed any longer.


CHPSPO Meeting Notes – March 15 2016

Capitol Hill Public Schools Parent Organization
Capitol Hill Montessori @ Logan, 215 G St., NE

March 15, 2016 – 6:30 p.m. – 8 p.m.

 1) Report out on meeting with DME, Marty Welles and Suzanne Wells

  • Issues raised:
    • Funding/support for Ward 6 middle school Eliot-Hine & Jefferson renovations
    • Task Force; grade misalignment
  • DME suggested issues raised should be heard by charter school leaders/board
  • DME will be responsible for drafting Mayor’s capital improvement plan
  • DCPS now in charge of renovations, but DGS in charge for implementation

2) Discussion of school security procedures, Caroline Kopek-Pezzarossi

  • Are schools locked all the time? Including drop off and pick up?
  • Reports from Miner, Maury, Van Ness, Amidon-Bowen, Tyler, CHM@L, SWS, Watkins, Stuart-Hobson, JO Wilson, Eliot-Hine
  • Variances on front doors being open all day vs locked all day vs locked between 9-3 and after 3:30,
  • DCPS Security Tips Hotline here:

3) Bike to School Day, Sandra Moscoso-Mills

  • Wednesday, May 4 @ Lincoln Park
  • Partnership with National Center for Safe Routes to School
  • Connect with DCPS Cornerstone
  • Reach out to DDOT
  • Follow up planning w/ George, Beth, Danica, Suzanne & Sandra

4) Budget Oversight Hearings – Who is testifying on what – Everyone


Next CHPSPO Meeting:  April 19, 2016


Cross Sector Collaboration Task Force

March 21, Education Counsel, 101 Constitution Ave. NW, Suite 900), 6 pm 

Council Performance Budget Oversight Hearings Register at

Tuesday, April 12:  PCSB and State Board of Education

Wednesday, April 13: DME

Thursday, April 14 (10 a.m. and 5 p.m.): DCPS (public witnesses)

Monday, April 18: OSSE

Ward 6 Budget Town Hall

April 21st, 6:30-8:30PM Ward 6 CM Allen to host budget town hall, DHS H St Service Center (645 H St. NE)

Eliot-Hine Enrollment Nights

Tuesday, April 5th and Wed, April 13th (overlap with PTO mtng at 6pm), from 4:30pm – 6:30pm – 1830 Constitution Ave NE

School Auctions

March 19, Maury at the Market, Eastern Market North Hall

April 30, Brent’s Taste of the Hill, Capitol Skyline Hotel

Bike to School Day – May 4 at Lincoln Park. Save the date!

Lion King – May 20 – 21 at Stuart Hobson.  Save the date!