After outlining issues of financial parity in our previous blog post, one question remains: has PEFRC responded in a way that works toward achieving fair funding? The short answer – in some respects yes, and in others no.
The commission cites Mary Levy’s recent report, “Public Education Finance Reform in the District of Columbia: Uniformity, Equity, and Facilities,” in its Equity and Recommendations Report repeatedly. We jointly commissioned Levy’s report with the DC Association of Chartered Public Schools.
Several of the commission’s recommendations follow Levy’s findings. Namely, we commend PEFRC’s call for transparency in examining school transfers closely to ensure that funding follows the student as dictated by law. This is a key oversight that, as Levy argues, deserves close attention. Yet we feel that PEFRC missed a big opportunity to stand against mid-year allocations to DCPS with no proportional supplemental funding for public charter schools. According to the Equity and Recommendations Report:
[W]hile many Commissioners recognized the problems with and inequities of DCPS receiving supplemental funding mid-year, there was not consensus that such funding should be done in a way that also provides supplemental funding to public charter schools.
But if by law all DC students in DC public schools are to be funded equitably, how does this make sense? As Levy contends in her report:
If the DC government funds only DCPS or only the charter schools outside the UPSFF, via mid-year allocations or budgeting funds for some DCPS functions in other city agencies, uniformity is meaningless.
We concur with Commissioner Jeremy Williams, who asserts in his dissenting statement:
Like DCPS, public charter schools routinely endure budget pressures resulting from escalating facilities costs and/or increased employee compensation requirements . . . . [A]ny locally-provided supplemental funding afforded to DCPS should also be provided to public charter schools on a pro-rata basis.
Alongside Williams, we believe, to reiterate from our previous post, that DCPS funding should not be based on enrollment projections; like public charter schools, DCPS funding should be determined by actual October enrollment figures to maintain parity. The fact that DCPS received $18 million this school year “for new students who are either ineligible for residency reasons or who never materialized” further justifies why DCPS funding should be based on actual enrollment rates.
PEFRC also sidestepped improving facility maintenance for public charters. In its report, PEFRC rightfully elucidates the difficulties public charters endure in securing unused DCPS buildings and in meeting capital costs with an unstable facilities allotment. This is critical considering, as Levy writes, many public charters “must use converted warehouse, office, and retail space that is often cramped and lacking in spaces such as gymnasiums, cafeterias, and athletic facilities.”
Even though public charters maintain right of first refusal by law to unused DCPS spaces, PEFRC likewise finds that “few have been able to secure a lease in City-owned buildings” and that “most rent space or have purchased commercial space in the private market,” inflating facility costs. While we applaud PEFRC for endorsing more transparency in this process, PEFRC’s decision to not issue specific recommendations on this issue means that the role of the DC government in securing such spaces for public charters remains insufficiently defined.
The other point of concern is the facilities allotment. PEFRC admits that the allotment is determined by “a somewhat arbitrary process that is affected by the City’s overall budget priorities.” This means that the capital costs for public charters, often higher than those of traditional public schools due to the rates of the commercial spaces many of them use, rely on an unstable metric. While PEFRC was not charged with commenting on these facility issues, these struggles nevertheless relate to the current lack of parity.
As before, Williams disagrees with PEFRC’s lack of specificity, and so do we. He counters, “To introduce a measure of the stability to the facilities funding process, the minimum level of funding should be firmly established at $3,000 per student for fiscal years 2013 and beyond; consisting entirely of local funds.” Such a recommendation on PEFRC’s part would have been a first step toward stabilizing the allotment.
In the conclusion of PEFRC’s report, the commissioners express hope that their recommendations will provide a starting point toward financial parity. We share their optimism and thank them for their hard work on behalf of DC youth. At the same time, we want to underscore what is at stake for all DC public students and how much work is left to establish fair funding.
This Wednesday, March 28, the DC Council has scheduled a budget hearing in Room 500 of the Wilson Building (14th and Penn, NW). This hearing will address issues relevant to the financial stability of charter schools. We need members of the DC public charter school community to show the Council that their constituents are concerned over the lack of financial parity in DC public education. We’ll post details on how you can get involved soon!