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Mayor Gray should keep promises on education funding

The DC government found a magic pot of money this year, and it totals $42.2 million according to CFO Natwar Gandhi's latest estimates.
It's laudable that Mayor Gray wants to put half toward education, according to the Post's Bill Turque. What's not so laudable is his plan to give all the money to DCPS schools and neglect public charter schools.

Mayor Gray, Deputy Mayor Wright, and State Superintendent Mahaley at a presentation with PCSB Board Chair Brian Jones speaking. Photo by dcpcsb on Flickr.

DCPS schools enroll 60% of the city's public school students. They would receive $21.1 million under the mayor's proposal. Meanwhile, public charter schools, which enroll the other 40%, would get nothing.

This decision breaks the mayor's campaign promises of funding parity for both district and charter schools. It also violates a 1995 law that allocates money between these two types of public schools using a formula.

A fairer solution would be to allocate those dollars according to the uniform per pupil formula that is already in place. That formula is designed to ensure that each DC school child gets the same amount of funding, regardless of where he or she goes to school.

DCPS has completely legitimate funding needs. They want to use the money to increase food service contracts, supplement teacher salaries, and for other personnel costs. DC's public charter schools also have legitimate funding needs. In fact, they have exactly the same needs to feed their students and pay their teachers and other staff.

Public charter schools already have costs that don't apply to DCPS schools. For example, a new charter school has to find, buy, and outfit a building, while a DCPS school does not. But all the charter schools want is equal funding and an equal chance to prove their worth, knowing they can lose their charter if they don't perform well in educating their students.

Mayor Gray still has time to do what's right and fix this by distributing the newfound revenues in accordance with the existing funding formula. Equal funding for all of DC's public school students is not only good politics, it's the law, and it is in keeping with the promise of One City.

Steven Glazerman is an economist who studies education policy and specializes in teacher labor markets. He has lived in the DC area off and on since 1987 and settled in the U Street neighborhood in 2001. He is a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, but any of his views expressed here are his own and do not represent Mathematica. 


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I don't disagree, but this post may be better with a disclaimer at the beginning.

by selxic on Jan 17, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

Mayor Gray is correct . Too much taxpayer money goes to charters which are cherry picking students and allowing non DC residents to go to their schools without paying tuition. They are deliberately using tactics to avoid taking special ed students. A recent blog post lauding the KIPP school at the former Montgomery school in NW DC noted the number of Maryland license plates on cars dropping off students

by danmac on Jan 17, 2012 11:18 am • linkreport

I'm sorry, but why should charter schools be getting additional public funds? Isn't the whole point of them that the government shouldn't be so involved in education? You can't have it both ways.

by Matt on Jan 17, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

What DC should do is set a grant program, and have individual schools compete for the money. What program? that is the question...

by goldfish on Jan 17, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

Charter schools get enough money as it is. We don't need them siphoning off additional funds that should be dedicated to public schools, especially when their performance is usually even with or below public schools.

by Joe on Jan 17, 2012 11:27 am • linkreport

Incidentally, there's plenty of Maryland plates dropping off kids in traditional DCPS schools as well. Hardly a charter only problem.

by Tim Krepp on Jan 17, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

We don't need them siphoning off additional funds that should be dedicated to public schools

Charter schools ARE public schools. This isn't some voucher program that provides funds to Sidwell friends.

Too much taxpayer money goes to charters which are cherry picking students

If you've got some evidence that a charter is rigging the lottery system, let's hear it. Otherwise, unsupported frothing is not particularly persuasive

by dcd on Jan 17, 2012 12:10 pm • linkreport

Charter schools are fundamentally a bad idea.

One has to make a decision. Are we as a city going to outsource our public education, or are we going to perform that task "in house" because we can't afford to do both. Charter schools siphon off the much needed revenue the DCPS desperately need to "right the ship".

And just for the record...the District spent 2 billion dollars in city taxpayer money between 1996 and 2007 directly purchasing and or renovating facilities for Charter schools, money it wasn't legally obligated to spend, so lets just stop with the "unfairness" flag.

by freely on Jan 17, 2012 12:11 pm • linkreport

I don't know that Charters can rig the lottery system, but they certainly attract parents who are more motivated just by the nature of an application only school. Additionally, while the initial lottery is randomly selected among all applicants, the wait list at many charters is determined by when the application was received, again selecting the more motivated parents.

Given that DCPS schools have fewer freedoms in crafting their student body, it's understandable that they would be more expensive to run.

by SE on Jan 17, 2012 12:34 pm • linkreport

dcdcA new study of KIPP charter schools found high dropout rates for black males in KIPP schools, fewer English language learners and students with disabilities in KIPP schools and great per-pupil funding for KIPP schools. The study was conducted by researchers at Western Michigan University. Source: Education Week
The study is criticized by the Mathmatica study funded by KIPP but their study did

The new study contains at least one finding that echoes what the Mathematica study concluded: KIPP schools are less likely than local regular public schools to enroll English-language learners or students with disabilities—even though Mr. Miron’s data suggest the KIPP schools may have more financial resources to do the job.

by danmac on Jan 17, 2012 12:48 pm • linkreport


There are also questions that arise when you look at the number of special ed students in charters versus DCPS. Even for the schools which don't actively work to discourage special ed students from attending, the average special education *parent* is more likely to stay with DCPS given the system's much greater resources.

by oboe on Jan 17, 2012 1:29 pm • linkreport

Charters are not seeking “additional” funds, just the same funding for their students that students in district schools receive according to the agreed upon rules of the funding formula. And note that the funding formula is weighted to into account students' special needs like limited English proficiency or degree of special education services required.

My post was not asking whether people like or dislike charter schools. It was asking Mayor Gray to live up to Candidate Gray's One City commitment to fair funding for all public school students in DC.

by Steven Glazerman on Jan 17, 2012 2:38 pm • linkreport

Whatever your thoughts about charter schools as a policy tool, the fact of the matter is that 40% of DC students attend them. So why should those 40% of DC students not have access to the funding promised to schools by Mayor Gray? After all, that's what Mr. Glazerman is talking about.

by Scott on Jan 17, 2012 3:07 pm • linkreport

Even for the schools which don't actively work to discourage special ed students from attending, the average special education *parent* is more likely to stay with DCPS given the system's much greater resources.

This rings true to me, at least from parents I've spoken to. Don't know that it's evidence of any attempt on the part of charters to rig their student body, though. And it's ironic that this point is raised in response to a post about funding inequality for charters. Yes, DCPS has greater resources re special ed students - you know what would help alleviate inequity? Having unexpected windfalls in the city budget allocated to DCPS AND charters, rather than to DCPS alone.

by dcd on Jan 17, 2012 3:09 pm • linkreport

Athough 40% of students attend charters, I don't think it would be "fair" to allocate 40% of funds to them. Being able to attract a select group of students gives charters an advantage that should also help their budgets. I have no idea what Gray promised and I find most references to "One City" to be ironically divisive.

I'm not anti-charter, they provide a much better option for some students than their neighborhood school. I just hate to see the struggling neighborhood schools, whose students don't have parents willing to apply and drive them across town to a superior charter, get left behind.

by SE on Jan 17, 2012 3:18 pm • linkreport

I am shopping for schools for my kids. In the past 2 months I have visited both charter and DCPS schools, elementary and middle schools.

It is the DPCS schools that have more conspicuous signs of wealth -- better and newer buildings, more classroom equipment and computers, art and music supplies. The charter and DCPS schools had the same number of teachers per student.

This was in stark contrast to the last time I looked into this, about 7 years ago, when the charters had better facilities even when they were renting hostile space from DCPS. The situation for both has really improved, but the change in DCPS is really amazing -- the schools are no longer dungeons.

My survey was completely unscientific and YMMV.

by goldfish on Jan 17, 2012 3:32 pm • linkreport


Yes, but that divide is not charter vs. traditional DCPS.

My daughters' school is a traditional DCPS neighborhood school. It's filled with energetic parents who consistently raise in the six figures year after year to fund programs, improve the school, etc. It's in-bounds area is among the wealthiest portion of Capitol Hill, the wait list is a mile long, and the chance of getting in out of bounds without a sibling is slim to none. Make no mistake, it's an incredible experience, I'm proud of what I've done for it, and amazed at the energy others have put in well beyond my humble efforts.

Meanwhile, there are charter schools in more disadvantaged neighborhoods that don't have a fraction of the resources my traditional DCPS school does. Their students deserve additional funding as much as my daughters do, and frankly probably need it more.

If the money is to be doled out based on need, I have no issue with that. But DCPS vs charters is not a proxy for that need.

By all means, I hope our school gets some of this money, and have great faith it will be put to good use. But we're no more (or less) deserving of it than charter schools.

by Tim Krepp on Jan 17, 2012 3:53 pm • linkreport

have no idea what Gray promised and I find most references to "One City" to be ironically divisive.

Thank you for recognizing that. The phrase is most always used to criticize Gray for what each person deems as what would make DC the "one city" they envision. In Steven's case, the message behind the campaign slogan has actually nothing at all to do with this discussion. I don't believe that most people (who weren't already Gray critics) thought that "One City" meant creating equal funding between DCPS and Charters. So not fulfilling this campaign promise doesn't make "One City" more or less.

It's now an ever-evolving phrase much like Obama's "Change You Can Believe In."

@Goldfish, that's good to hear! We need more people to tell experiences such as yours. Keep rockin!

by HogWash on Jan 17, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

@SE, you write that "Being able to attract a select group of students gives charters an advantage that should also help their budgets."

Charters, as publicly funded and independently run schools, don't necessarily attract a select group of students. They are open to all students across the city. It's true that there may be fewer students with limited English proficiency or needing special education, and that some more involved parents may be more likely to apply for a charter school lottery.

But how far does the "creaming" argument go when nearly half of DC students attend charters? And how does it fare when one also consider that there are plenty of non-charter parents who apply to place their child in an out-of-bounds public school? Are they less involved or worse at raising their children because they chose a public school? (Also, I'm sure there are plenty of families who apply to many different options) All this is to say, I don't think there are really fundamental differences in the caliber of students who attend charters.

These aren't students who would otherwise go to Sidwell or another private school. They're DCPS students. When I taught east of the river, many of the students were neighborhood kids, not ones traveling from crosstown. They were not much different from those students at Spingarn (their neighborhood high school). The very fact that a school opened across the street, rather than across the river, made the charter school more of a neighborhood school than Spingarn was. It may have offered a moderately better academic program, but the main advantage was that it was safer.

In fact, it's along those lines -- safety, proximity to home, work, or siblings' schools -- that many parents take the effort to apply to charter schools. We talk about them as if they are a completely separate system from DCPS, which they are in bureaucratic structure. But I'd imagine for a parent of a school-age child in DC, there's not much distinction. And so, the charter schools in DC should have their own share of the money.

by Scott on Jan 17, 2012 3:59 pm • linkreport

I find most references to "One City" to be ironically divisive.

On the contrary, I think folks tend to use the "One City!" rallying cry ironically to point out the occasions when Gray (or other politicians) seem to be playing to racial and class divisions in DC. It's a call for unity via ironic critique.

by oboe on Jan 17, 2012 4:23 pm • linkreport

While novel in concept, the reality of this article is haplessly flawed. For example, the point that DCPS does not have to buy their buildings is true, but have you seen the buildings that the majority of DC Public Schools are in? I could easily say that at least 50% of them were built between 1930 and 1950, and they need renovations and upgrades just as badly, if not more so, than the charter schools. Another reality that isn't addressed in this article is student-teacher ratio. Because of what it is, charter schools can control their ratios to beneath 15:1. DCPS, even with enrollment requirements for schools, still have ratios ranging from 13:1 to 20:1 depending on the location of the school. Combine that with discipline issues that larger class sizes engender and lack of parent involvement (which can be profound in the areas of high poverty), the funds are necessary to at the bare minimum maintain the status quo and give students a chance to have a decent learning experience

by Omar on Jan 17, 2012 4:33 pm • linkreport

But how far does the "creaming" argument go when nearly half of DC students attend charters?

I'm agnostic on the issue of charters, but it's pretty easy to see that DC's selection of charters is largely bifurcated between at-risk and low-income kids in the case of KIPP, Ceasar Chavez, or as another example, Options PCS. These schools have varying levels of success for their target demographic. But middle-class parents of non- at-risk youths know they are not designed to serve their kids.

The "target audience" of schools like EL Haynes, Yu Ying, or Two Rivers is different. One of the selling points of charters is that there's no one-size-fits-all model that works for everyone. But the flip-side of that is that you start to see a compartmentalization.

Obviously this lends itself to creating a school identity that will tend to lead to self-selection. Want to start a charter school that draws largely middle-class, educated students to the exclusion of poor, at-risk kids? Start a Chinese immersion school with a curriculum that honors gay atheists throughout history and includes a musical focus on 1970s New Wave bands.

Heck, my daughter's DCPS elementary school has hired a handful of gay teachers over the last five years, and we've seen a small exodus of parents pulling their kids out because they didn't like the message the new hires were sending.

by oboe on Jan 17, 2012 4:46 pm • linkreport

Are charter schools forced to provide the same court-ordered accomodations as traditional public schools for special education students (such as providing transportation costs (sometimes out-of-the-District), private school tuition). If not, that would seem to argue in favor of funding going disproportionately toward the traditional public schools, as they seek to emerge from the costly court oversight related to its services for students with disabilities? As a whole the caliber of students attending each form of school may be the same, but I'm not sure the constraints each type of school must work under are the same.

by DCster on Jan 17, 2012 4:47 pm • linkreport

Again, @Omar, if we're going to allocate based on need, let's do that. But using DCPS as a proxy indicator of need is a bad idea, and often not true. What about Eastern High School, a traditional neighborhood school two blocks from my house. They've just finished an incredible renovation, and therefore should not be eligible for this money, by this logic.

Not a great example, of course, as facilities modernization would not be funded with this money. And as goldfish saw in his school visits, is progressing nicely in many DCPS schools.

The idea that DCPS schools are failing and therefore need the money is a flawed model. Either determine a clear and transparent model for determining need or dole it out on a per student basis, as the article suggests.

For all students, DCPS and charter.

by Tim Krepp on Jan 17, 2012 4:49 pm • linkreport

@DCster Yes, charter schools are DC Public Schools (if not run directly by DCPS) and are not allowed to discriminate against any special ed kids.

As a practical matter, there is a range of welcomeness (to put it mildly) to special ed kids and their needs across charter schools and DCPS, and some are a better fit than others. This is a real issue of access, but the line is not between charters and traditional DCPS.

But legally, there is no difference.

by Tim Krepp on Jan 17, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

Omar, you missed my first-hand report. DCPS has been renovating their buildings and the results are impressive. Also the S-T ratio is about the same for any given grade.

The horse race between charters and DCPS is getting the good teachers. Charters have free hand here; they can pay more, and find room in their budget by sacrificing somewhere else. Otoh those teachers are not unionized (charters have been called 'union busting', btw) and their jobs are less secure. DCPS is much less flexible in these regards -- individual schools compete for good teachers by by having good administrators and good programs.

The change in DCPS is amazing -- they have realized that if they don't get the students, they will go out of business. They now treat prospective parents much better.

by goldfish on Jan 17, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

@Oboe, I think folks tend to use the "One City!" rallying cry ironically to point out the occasions when Gray (or other politicians) seem to be playing to racial and class divisions in DC. It's a call for unity via ironic critique.

That's a rather odd way to look at it. I think Steven's use of the phrase "One City" is consistent with how (and in what context) most people use it. That is, "if Gray were 'really' about having a One City, he would do this/that." I don't believe Steven (as w/most most people) had any racial/class considerations in mind before deciding to use the phrase. Not at all.

Even for the few who might, I'm sorta surprised that you thought that there was enough validity to allegations of Gray playing the race/class to warrant mentioning it as a ironic critique reasonable defense.

by HogWash on Jan 17, 2012 5:22 pm • linkreport

Update: According to the DC Attorney General, Mayor Gray's proposal to shower DCPS with money while ignoring DCPCS is legal.

That still does not make it right. He's still betraying people who supported his election and short-changing 40% of DC's public school students just because the DCPS central office overspent its budget. DCPS enjoys economies of scale that charter schools do not, yet it continues to rely on Mayoral largesse to fill budget holes, a practice that Candidate Gray was going to end.

by Steven Glazerman on Jan 20, 2012 6:18 pm • linkreport

During this time of tight budgets I'm extremely curious about where this "magic pool of money" came from. Both charters and public schools might benefit from additional funds but it shouldnt hsve to be at the detriment oftop service areas that were already set to receive allocations.

by Discerning Citizen on Jan 22, 2012 8:22 am • linkreport

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