Bill 24-570 “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021”

Jessica Giles

State Director

Education Reform Now DC

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members and staff of the Committee of the Whole of the DC Council. My name is Jessica Giles. I am a ward seven resident and State Director of Education Reform Now DC (“ERN DC”). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights for a just and equitable public education system for all students. I am pleased to provide testimony on Bill 24-570, the “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021.” 

On January 20, 2022, I testified before the DC Council on the first version of this bill and urged the DC Council to adopt three recommendations: review DCPS’ new budget model before making any changes to their budgeting process; create a more transparent and accessible tracking system of expenditures across our public education system; and require the Mayor to complete a new adequacy study of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) every five years. Thank you for listening and advancing those recommendations. DCPS has implemented a new budget model that is more equitable. The public can see federal investments and expenditures, and the adequacy study will get kicked off in January 2023. Additionally, the DC Council approved a 5.9% increase to the UPSFF in FY2023 and created two new concentration weights for students designated as “at-risk.” These are all critical investments as the District seeks to accelerate learning after the devastating impact COVID has had on our students, families, educators, and schools.

Now, turning to Bill 24-570 itself. We support extending the time the DC Council and the public have to properly review DCPS’ budget calculation and require the local education agency (LEA) to share only one budget document (lines 100-107). These positive process changes will help enhance transparency and clarity during the budget process. Overall, however, we believe the bill is overly prescriptive and would cause negative consequences.

Issue #1: We believe funding must follow the student, with increased spending on students furthest from opportunity. Lines 73-76, however, would allow a school to keep its same level of funding (for up to a classroom of students) at the expense of schools with increased enrollment. We need every school working to enroll and retain students. A provision that would allow DCPS to keep 95% of its prior year’s funding is already codified into law. 

Issue #2: We are concerned that lines 90-94, which replace federal funding with local funding, would cause a multi-million dollar funding hole when federal relief funds are exhausted. There are limits to the number of cuts DCPS could make to the central office to give more to those few schools with rising enrollment while still providing essential services necessary to run a large system. Further, if DC were to increase funding for the UPSFF to help DCPS fund the hold harmless provisions in this bill, it may mean fewer funds for programs that support public education outside the UPSFF. 

School funding must be equitable, flexible, transparent and accessible, and predictable and stable. 

  • Equitable, with resources following students and additional spending is on students with higher needs, so all students get the resources they need to meet high standards and thrive.
  • Flexible, so that school leaders can invest in a combination of resources that drive student learning and meet the distinct needs of their students.
  • Transparent and accessible, with clear, easy-to-understand rule for where, how, and why funds are distributed, so school communities can hold districts accountable for distributing funds equitably and so that principals and families understand changes in their enrollment and student needs.
  • Predictable and stable, so that school system leaders understand how changes in their system’s context affect funding, and so that big changes in funding from year to year don’t disrupt strategies and services that are particularly important in high-need schools. 

All of these strategies must work optimally together to ensure that our public education system prepares every student to reach their limitless potential. Thank you for allowing me to testify today. 

News & Press Testimony