DC Council Testimony on School Budget Bills 24-570 and 24-571

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On Thursday, January 20, 2022, Executive Director Yesim Sayin Taylor testified at the DC Council’s Committee of the Whole Hearing on Bill 24-570 “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021” and Bill 24 -571 “Schools Full Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021.” You can read his testimonial below or download a PDF copy.


Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Yesim Sayin Taylor, and I am the Executive Director of the DC Policy Center, an independent, nonpartisan think tank that offers policies for a strong and vibrant economy in the District of Columbia. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify about the two DCPS budgeting bills that the Board is considering.

In my testimony, I will make comments and suggestions separately on the two bills.

Bill 24-571, “The Schools Full Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021” aims to prove school budget stability by ensuring that schools will have at least the same budget they got the previous year, unless the school loses a grade level, is ready for closure, or must absorb students from a school about to close, or there is a system-wide shock that reduces total funding for the more than 5% DCPS formula.

First, this bill as written will not provide fiscal stability. In a year of low inflation, the 100% safe harbor provision could indeed provide some assurance to parents and principals that their schools will not lose money or positions. But in an inflationary year like this, when recorded inflation is 7%, schools that receive the full amount of their budget from the previous year will still experience a 7% drop in their actual purchasing power. Thus, the disclaimer will neither relieve anxiety nor preserve budgets. This can, of course, be resolved by amending the bill to include an inflationary adjustment, but that would likely create a deficit in the fiscal plan and a future obligation for the city to increase the per pupil funding formula for inflation. recorded.

Second, this bill focuses on school budgets, but to achieve real stability, it should focus on actual spending. Given the attention that published school budgets receive during budget season, this is understandable. But remember that school budgets are first published almost eight months before the start of the school year. Many things change when schools open, shifting needs from one thing to another. Thus, it is common to see many reprogrammings in school budgets as well as in the school system as a whole. For example, I looked at data for fiscal year 2017 – it’s dated, but that’s what I had – and observed that for each DCPS school, the actual expenditures recorded at the school differed from the school’s published budget (as reviewed by the Board during the budget season These variances ranged from a 9.4% increase to a 14.4% decrease in actual expenditures from the published budget for this purpose (see figure 1 in the appendix).

Rather than legislating in this way to achieve fiscal stability, we recommend that the Committee consider a public expenditure tracking study to see where schools start with their budgets and where they end the year with their actual expenditures. This will not only focus stabilization efforts on the right metric, but contextualize discussions about how budgets should be formulated.

Third, this bill will permanently fix existing funding inequities. School budgets are determined by need and enrollment, but there are historical inequities, amplified by historical budgeting, that result in more resources for some schools and fewer resources for others. I looked at the fiscal year 2021 budgets for all of the DCPS elementary schools and found that the per-pupil spending the schools had in their budgets, after subtracting at-risk funding, could go as high as $19,500 and go down to $10,405. Variations can be significant even between schools of similar size. For example, in 13 elementary schools with 400 to 450 students, one school had a budget of $10,405 for each student enrolled and another had $17,804. These differences may in part be the result of varying special educational needs or other needs at these schools, but my point is that we don’t know for sure. Therefore, we should not adopt a policy that would permanently preserve such differences.

The second bill, B24-570, first requires DCPS to separate its budget into three broad areas: central administration, local schools, and school aids. It then limits central government expenditure to 3% of the overall budget and provides various rules for the chancellor to follow in determining school budgets, such as increasing staff costs at the maximum of inflation, increases required by WTU, UPSSF or 2% increases, and increasing non-staff expenses in line with inflation, then making adjustments to reflect changing staffing needs and other expenses.

This bill aims to create transparency and shift resources from central office to schools, but it could end up increasing inequality.

The bill treats the central office as purely indirect, similar to a back-office accounting operation. In fact, many programs traditionally budgeted for at central office have a direct impact on school and student success. For example, the Multi-Level Support Systems (formerly SEL) team provides technical assistance, capacity building, observation, coaching, data analysis, and other support that meets the needs of schools. Would they be considered academic support or a central office? We do not know.

Even central office programs that are budgeted in a way that is not correlated with enrollment numbers can serve the important goal of equalizing opportunity. For example, DCPS’s College and Career Readiness program provides information to every student so they can be informed of the opportunities that await them upon graduation. If this program is reduced because there is no room for it within the 3% allocation, then each school will have to provide these supports on its own, and some, with greater capacity, will provide better services to their students, and others, with less capacity, will not. This is an example where a centrally organized and budgeted program can serve DCPS students better than an alternative where each school is self-contained. And this bill might just kill him.

There needs to be more transparency in school funding and shelter arrangements are important for stability, but we need to know more about actual spending, capacity differences between schools and the relationship between needs and programs before making such major changes as those proposed by these two bills.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to testify and I will be happy to answer your questions.


Appendix Figure 1 – How School Budgets and Actual Expenditures Could Vary:

Appendix Figure 2 – Differences in Budgeted Funds Per Student Between Similar-Size DCPS Schools (Excludes At-Risk Funding)

DC Policy Center Fellows are freelance writers, and we gladly encourage the expression of a variety of viewpoints. The opinions of our fellows, published here or elsewhere, do not reflect the views of the DC Policy Center.

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