Yesterday, the Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith released the final version of the D.C. Education Adequacy Study. The initial draft was made available last October. The 197 page report may be the most comprehensive analysis of any subject area ever produced by occupants of the Wilson Building. Just as Ayn Rand deconstructed the field of philosophy and then created a new vision of the universe by tightly interweaving all of its theoretical branches into a perfectly logical whole, Ms. Smith has achieved the same regarding the financing of public education. Whether you want to read about recommendations for technology in the classroom for various grade levels or the number of square feet required for classrooms based upon student age, it is all there.
Of course, most groundbreaking for our local charter school movement is the recommendation, now put down officially on paper for the first time, that all funding for public schools, whether traditional or charter, go through the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula. As most of us already know this has been the law for over a decade but in practice DCPS has received about $100 million a year in revenue outside of this mechanism. But going forward items such as legal services, technology, nurses, mental health support, procurement assistance, building maintenance, custodial services, and utilities would be provided for in the UPSFF. The only exceptions would be money to pay for crossing guards and Student Resource Officers. The executive director of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools Robert Cane clearly recognizes the significance of this change:
"The Adequacy Study report represents a huge breakthrough for the charter school movement in D.C. The report, commissioned by the D.C. government, acknowledges what FOCUS and the charter schools have been saying for seventeen years: that charter and DCPS kids should and must be funded equally and that the government has failed to do so. Instead, the report acknowledges that the government annually provides DCPS students with tens of millions of dollars more funding than charter school students. Mayor Gray has a great opportunity to make things right, and to fulfill his campaign promises, in the FY 2015 budget he's working on now. Will he do so?"
Mr. Cane has put his finger on the one issue that may come between the goals of the Adequacy Study and reality. For the one thing that has changed between the two versions of this report is the cost. Three months ago the additional expense to bring equality to DCPS and charters was $137.7 million. Now we are up to $181.6 million for only the current school year. The Study's authors state that this figure represents "an amount equal to just more than 15 percent of total current local education spending for SY 2013–2014."
Ms. Smith, in her introduction to the report, states that funding equity can only be accomplished using a phased-in approach. As the Mayor develops his Fiscal Year 2015 budget we will be able to clearly determine how serious he is in correcting the financial injustices of the past.