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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