D.C. stiffs charter schools in $21M giveaway
Last month, the District of Columbia’s CFO discovered a nice chunk of unexpected revenue, some $42 million, had come the city’s way. The mayor promptly called for half of the money to go to the District’s public schools. In apparent disregard of the law, however, the mayor wants to give the whole $21M windfall to DCPS, bailing them out for a loss of federal funding and mismanagement of the district’s food service and merit pay programs. See Bill Turque’s characterization of the budget holes this bailout will fill:
DCPS said the extra $21.4 million budgeted by Gray is needed to address several issues: Congressional cuts in federal payments ($4.5 million); overruns in food service caused by higher labor and food costs and lower federal reimbursements ($10.7 million); mandated merit-based salary increases for teachers ($2.8 million); and the rising cost of excessed non-instructional employees who were removed from school budgets but are being carried on the central office books.
Privately, senior Gray administration officials said DCPS finances have historically been plagued by cost overruns, attributable to persistent overspending by school system leadership and weak oversight by Gandhi’s office.
Charter sector leaders in D.C. are incensed that DCPS is getting a huge payout to fill budget holes while they get nothing. They’re right to be angry. In the hands of charter school leaders, these funds could go to building new programs to help the 40-plus percent of the city’s students educated outside DCPS.
Charter sector leaders in D.C. are incensed that DCPS is getting a huge payout to fill budget holes while they get nothing.
It also shows a dark underside of some of Michelle Rhee’s signature human-capital reforms: They’re expensive and not yet fully paid for, even with the eye-popping philanthropic commitments Rhee secured. The IMPACT teacher evaluation system and merit pay are exciting reforms, but they were secured with huge across-the-board raises to buy the support of the union. Likewise, getting the ability to fire poor teachers required giving many of those substandard educators a year of employment on the central office budget while they look for another job in the system. Reformers need to keep these implementation challenges in mind. For various reasons (often political ones), far-reaching reform of teacher pay and performance models does not come cheaply.
As the Post reports, there’s little chance this money will find its way into charter school classrooms, even if the sector lobbies hard for it. Under Fenty and now under Gray, DCPS gets the lion’s share of every public education dollar. Parents in the District can only wonder what the “other half” of this city’s public school system would look like with truly equal funding – and thank heavens that the charter sector’s leaders manage to turn out good results on a very thin dime.
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About the Editor
Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Chris Tessone was a Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow and the Director of Finance of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. He has strong interests in governance and education finance, especially teacher compensation and school facilities finance.
May 23, 2013