DFER DC’s Testimony at Budget Oversight Hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Education

Catharine Bellinger – Democrats for Education Reform
Testimony at Budget Oversight Hearing for the Deputy Mayor for Education

April 25, 2017

Good morning, Chairman Grosso and members of the Education Committee. My name is Catharine Bellinger and I serve as the D.C. Director for Democrats for Education Reform. I am here today to urge the Council to fully fund our schools by increasing the per-pupil funding by 3.5% this year.

We are at an exciting moment for public education in the District. From 2008 to 2015, enrollment in public schools has risen by 14,000 students. City leaders should look at this enrollment growth positively — as a sign that more families are confident in our public schools. We can only maintain this progress by continuing to provide adequate funds to our public schools.

Unfortunately, Mayor Bowser’s proposed budget for this fiscal year only proposes a 1.5% increase in the per-pupil funding level for our public schools. This proposal sets the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula at a level below the expected rise of inflation and does not keep pace with the rising costs for schools.

Insufficient funding poses a major challenge for schools in the coming school year. Our public school budgets are increasingly squeezed by rising personnel costs — salaries, and in particular benefits like health care. These costs are rising at a rate far exceeding 1.5%. Without a substantive increase to per-pupil funds, schools will be forced to choose between fair pay and benefits for teachers and important offerings like supports for at-risk students and art, music, and extracurriculars.

I urge the D.C. Council to remedy this gap in funding. In January, the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula working group convened by OSSE recommended a 3.5% increase to the per-pupil funding level. A 3.5% increase would fully fund our schools, keeping pace with rising costs and with inflation, and ensuring that all students have access to the resources they need. School finance experts, educators, parents, and constituents agree.

There is certainly room for excitement about the Mayor’s proposed budget. We thank Mayor Bowser for increasing the facilities allotment for public charter schools by 2.2% annually for four years. With this four-year commitment, schools can now make needed improvements to their buildings or lease facilities that are more sufficient for the size of their student bodies. We thank the Mayor for making a long-term investment that will provide tens of thousands of students with better learning environments.

But a place to learn is not enough — it’s what happens inside the building that leads to better outcomes for our kids. Students in all our public schools deserve schools where we can afford to attract and retain great teachers, reduce turnover, provide necessary in-school supports such as tutoring and counseling, and offer the activities like art, music, and extracurriculars that help make school a joyful place for kids to learn. I urge the DC Council to follow the recommendations of the OSSE working group and increase per-pupil funding by 3.5% so that our public schools can rise to these challenges.

Thank you Chairman Grosso and members of the Education Committee for your time, and for your commitment to high-quality public education for all students in the District.