April 12, 1999Questions and Answers About the FY2000 Budget For Charter Schools in the District of Columbia
How many students are in charter schools, and how many are expected next year?
The current audited count is 3594. Since most schools are adding a grade each year, and since a total of 11 more schools are scheduled to open in the fall, we can expect substantial growth. While we won't know exact numbers until school opens in September, the Mayor's budget projects 5008 additional students -- or a total of 8602.
What does the law say about how these students are to be funded?
The DC School Reform Act (DC Code 31-2853.41) mandates a common per-pupil formula for both charters and DCPS. On July 23, 1998, the DC Council passed the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act, establishing an FY99 base amount of $5500 per pupil plus add-ons for special education, limited English proficient, residential, and summer school. This is the basis for FY2000 funding of both charters and DCPS schools.
How much is being spent per pupil in charter schools this year?
According to the Mayor's budget, FY99 spending is $25.465 million, divided by 3594 students -- or $7085 per student.
At that rate, what would be required in FY2000 for the number of charter school students the Mayor's budget anticipates?
$7085 per student times 8602 students = $60.945 million. However, the law also requires:
The inflation factor raises the base to $5588, and increases the per-pupil average to $7198. (The effect of the secondary weighting is hard to calculate without knowing how many high school students will be in charters in SY99-00).
The FY99 facilities amount, based on DCPS capital spending, should have been $1040 per pupil. (Instead, it was reduced to $617.) The FY2000 DCPS capital request translates to $1092 per pupil. Averaged together, these produce an FY2000 facilities add-on of $1066 per pupil.
Taking the inflation-adjusted base and adding $449 (which is the difference between the current per-pupil facilities add-on and the level required by the law), the new per-pupil average should be $7647.
Multiplying that figure times the number of students anticipated in the Mayor's budget, the overall appropriation level would be $65.779 million.
Is this what the Mayor's budget provides?
No. The Mayor's budget provides charter funding in two pieces. First, a carryover of $25.465 million for current enrollment, then a new "public education escrow" account of $17.844 million.
What's the escrow account?
It's a fund that will be apportioned between charters and DCPS based on an actual count of students after schools open. The account would provide funding for the growth in charter enrollment, but would return unspent funds to DCPS. (Under the DC School Reform Act, any excess in direct charter school appropriations reverts to the New Charter School Fund -- a "revolving fund" that provides startup dollars for new charter schools. The money does not return to the DC Treasury or to DCPS.)
So what's the problem?
The escrow account is far too small for the number of students expected in public charter schools. The Mayor's budget limits charter funding growth to 50% of new enrollment -- and apparently leaves out the inflation adjustment and facilities allotment. But $17.8 million would provide only $3563 per-pupil for new charter students. In fact, the total available to charters (adding the carryover and escrow together) would be just $43.309 million. That would provide the projected 8602 students with just $5034 per-pupil -- far less than the Council's Uniform Per Student Funding Formula Act requires.
What if there are fewer students?
Assuming that only 7000 students enroll in charters, the proposed budget would still provide only $6187 per pupil. That's about $1500 less, per-pupil, than the Act requires.
What happens if charter schools are underfunded in the local budget?
There's no guarantee that Congress will make up the gap, as it did last year. All charter schools (not just new ones) will face protracted uncertainty about what revenues they should expect. This will hamper their ability to plan academic programs, and to obtain financing for facilities needs.
What are the key numbers again?
What should the Council do?
The DC Council should provide full funding for public charter school students according to the formula it adopted last year