On the mayoral campaign trail, independent candidate David Catania takes every opportunity to tout his legislative record as chairman of the D.C. Council’s Education Committee, often highlighting a bill he wrote and shepherded to passage last year that allocates more funds to schools with higher populations of at-risk students. But prior to this change, how has D.C. stacked up to the rest of the region when it comes to funding for high-poverty schools? According to a new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a D.C.-based economic policy think tank, not very well.
The District spends more per pupil, on average, than any other jurisdiction in the region. Yet in the 2011-12 school year—-the one studied in the report—-D.C.’s spending on high-poverty public schools landed it in the middle of the pack. According to the report, D.C.’s traditional public schools spent 21.2 percent extra for low-income students, while the city’s charter schools gave low-income students just a 5.9 percent boost. Compare these figures to Arlington’s 80.5 percent funding increase for low-income students, or Fairfax County’s 34.1 percent, or Montgomery County’s 31.7 percent.
Overall in that school year, Arlington County spent the most per student ($18,216) on high-poverty schools, those where at least three-quarters of students received free or reduced school lunches. D.C. charters came in next at $16,136, followed by Alexandria ($14,501) and D.C. public schools ($14,497). Prince George’s County came in last place by both measures.
Among D.C.’s neighborhood high schools, Eastern High School spent the most per student, at $22,229—-a somewhat misleading figure, because the school was in the process of reopening grade by grade, and so had just 303 students at the time. Woodrow Wilson High School spent the least, just $12,529 per student, which makes sense given its wealthier population and high enrollment (1,633 students that year).
With the new allocation law in place, D.C. should begin to close the gap with neighboring jurisdictions when it comes to funding for high-poverty schools. Whether that’s enough to improve performance at those schools, of course, is another question entirely.
The full report, with an interactive map, can be found here.
Image from the report