Volume 41 | April 19, 2024


             As I talk to community groups about the Mayor’s proposed budget for next fiscal year, I hear pressing concerns about three issues: (1) restoring the child care subsidy (“Pay Equity Fund”); (2) reversing budget cuts in neighborhood DCPS schools; and (3) rejecting the Mayor’s 66% cut to the Access to Justice Initiative.


             On May 28th I will be presenting a proposed budget – revising the Mayor’s recommendations – to the Council for a vote. At that time, the budget I present will restore most if not all of the Pay Equity Fund, and do so by rejecting the Chief Financial Officer’s insistence that $217 million needs to be added to the District’s already-robust reserve funds. The CFO exceeded his authority when he told the Mayor and me that the reserves need to be topped-off now -- because the law provides otherwise. In other words, this was a policy choice he forced on the Mayor and I’ve made clear to him that I will not comply. I explain this below.


             It is also my intention that the cuts to individual DCPS schools will be restored. However, I have not worked out the details for this, yet. It is my intention to do this by redirecting funds within the DCPS budget. I explain this more, below.


             Restoring the Access to Justice Initiative will be more difficult. For the last few years, the Council has appropriated roughly $31 million for this program but the Mayor has proposed only $10.4 million for next year. I am optimistic that I will be able to find savings (cuts) elsewhere in the $10 billion local funds budget to keep Access to Justice at $31 million.


              Child Care Subsidy: Recognizing the need for affordable, quality child care, the Council established the Pay Equity Fund several years ago. The purpose is to support certificate and degree programs for childcare workers (i.e., improve their skills) and to subsidize (increase) the pay for these low-wage childcare workers.


Several years ago, the city began requiring that childcare workers be credentialed. This is because these workers are actually educators, and childcare centers are actually the first step (outside the home) in putting young people on a path to a solid education.  


But requiring community college or university for these workers, while poorly paying them, is a recipe for failure.


The District’s solution -- The Pay Equity Fund -- is changing this, and the District is seen nationally as a leader in this space.


The Mayor has made clear that she did not willingly zero out the Fund. The Chief Financial Officer insisted that the Mayor redirect dollars to the “Fiscal Stabilization Reserve Fund,” and the Pay Equity Fund was the easiest (and largest) source to meet this demand. I agree with the Mayor that the Chief Financial Officer exceeded his authority and that the law establishing this particular Reserve Fund does require replenishment in this way.


I will present to the Council a revised proposed budget at the end of May. I am quite clear that my proposal will restore at least $217 million to the Pay Equity Fund and do so by reversing the additional funding for the Reserve Fund.


Lest anyone think I am being irresponsible: the law establishes the mechanism for replenishing the reserve fund – it is out of year-end surplus. This particular reserve fund is a creation of the Council, not Congress or the Home Rule Act, and it was created to provide an extra layer of financial security. Even without replenishment, the government will have over $1.5 billion in reserves, equal to over 50 days’ operating costs. Since the advent of Home Rule, only in the last four years has the District had this much in reserves.


The CFO has said the basis for his concern is the possibility of inadequate cash flow in late fiscal year 2027 and fiscal year 2028 -- not this year or next. We therefore have plenty of time to ensure adequate reserves to meet cash flow needs.


Bottom line: the Pay Equity Fund will be restored, and the reserves will be fully funded over the next four years.


School Cuts: It continues to amaze me that year after year the Chancellor proposes to cut funding to schools and force them to lay off teachers and other personnel. I do not know one single school that says it has enough resources to do everything they want to do to improve learning. But this year may be the worst: across the system schools are cutting over 200 educators.


To stop this annual trauma, three years ago I proposed, and the Council adopted, a law to require that the Chancellor fund schools first (and Central offices last). The Mayor protested, the bill became law without her signature, and last year the Chancellor ignored it. The effect of the law would be to ensure that schools are funded at the same level year after year (unless there is a major drop in enrollment), and if the school system gets more money, the schools get more money.  


In fact, this year the Mayor has proposed a 12.4% increase in the per pupil funding formula and a 15.6% increase in the DCPS budget overall. But once again the Chancellor has ignored the Schools First law. Moreover, the Mayor has proposed that we repeal the law. It’s just crazy.


Schools are not funded on a per pupil basis. Never have been. The system is, but not individual DCPS schools. On a per pupil basis, Jackson-Reed High School is one of the lowest funded schools in the system. And that’s ok because it is the largest school and there are economies of scale. But it shows that at the school level the claim that “funding follows the kids” is a myth.


Schools need stability. Parents want stability. Take this year’s school, its budget, and build on it for next year. If there are a large number of at-risk students, give the school additional resources. That’s the policy behind the Schools First in Budgeting law.


But it seems DCPS Central is budgeted first and schools last. For next year, DCPS is getting almost $200 million more (15.6%). And yet three-quarters of its schools are having to lay off personnel. The explanation is that as the DCPS budget grows, the Central Office budget grows. Even though there should be economies of scale at the administrative level.

So the solution is obvious. Restore funding to individual schools; invest in the classroom. And reduce the growth in the Central offices. Just because teachers are being paid more (the recent teachers’ contract) doesn’t mean they need more managers at Central.

Stay tuned.



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