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As the D.C. Council looks to finalize the District’s budget in the coming weeks, charter school advocates are crying foul over policymakers’ decision not to increase capital funding for those schools by what they say is a sufficient amount.
On Wednesday—a day after the Council gave initial approval to the fiscal year 2017 budget—a collection of charter school groups came out against a continued freeze on D.C.’s “Charter Facilities Allotment.” The annual appropriation funds charter schools on a per-student basis. There are roughly 39,000 charter school students in the District who account for about 45 percent of all students.
According to Catharine Bellinger, the D.C. director of the Democrats for Education Reform PAC, the charter facilities allotment has remained “relatively flat” since 2008, and is now $3,124 per student. Following the recession, construction and lease costs in the District’s charter market have “risen astronomically,” Bellinger says, while the allotment hasn’t been adjusted for inflation. As a result, charter schools sometimes have to reapportion money out of their operating dollars “to create adequate learning spaces.”
Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, a District-based nonprofit, says charters receive about $6,558 dollars less each year than traditional public schools per student. Both it and DFER are calling for D.C. to increase the floor for the charter facilities allotment to $3,250 per student. They’re also advocating for the allotment to be indexed to construction costs and inflation over the years.
“[We are] deeply disappointed in the failure of the D.C. Council to recognize that 45 percent of students in the city attend public charter schools and are equally deserving of high-quality facilities as their traditional public school counterparts,” FOCUS said in a statement on Wednesday. “This disparate pattern of funding forces charter school leaders to make difficult decisions between facilities and programming, and creates barriers to the growth of high quality schools that already have long waitlists.”
A report by the D.C. Council’s Committee on Education shows that charters are set to get more than $720 million in “gross operating funds” in fiscal year 2017, an increase of about seven percent over the previous fiscal year. The D.C. Public Charter School Board projects student enrollment of about 41,000 students, or a five percent increase enrollment over fiscal year 2016.
Asked to comment on advocates’ frustration about capital dollars, At-Large D.C. Councilmember and Education Committee Chair David Grosso provided the following statement:
Last year, the Committee on Education was able to provide an increase in charter schools facilities funding. When Council received the proposed budget, I was disappointed to learn that it did not include any funding for the Charter Facilities Allotment. Despite this challenge, the Committee on Education included proposed enhancements to address increased enrollment and additional investments in the uniform per pupil funding formula that amounts [to] $46 million going to public charter schools. I am also proud of the investments that the Committee made in initiatives that will help every child in this city, including funding for early literacy grant initiatives, capital funds for data systems infrastructure at [the Office of the State Superintendent of Education], the expansion of school-based health centers, and investments in libraries city-wide.
In a statement, DCPCSB said it “understands the [budgeting] challenges [Mayor Muriel Bowser] and the Council” face this year, but that maintaining the funding freeze “creates great difficulties” for non-traditional public schools. “As charter facilities costs continue to rise, the funds will need to come from other sources of the public charter school’s budget,” the statement continued.
D.C. has more than 110 charter schools run by about 60 organizations, according to DCPCSB.