ERN DC Testimony on School Budgeting

Press Releases

January 20, 2022

The Committee of the Whole public hearing on:

Bill 24-570 “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021”

Bill 24-571 “Schools Full Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021”

Jess Giles

State Director

Education Reform Now DC

Good afternoon, Chairman Mendelson and members and staff of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Jess Giles. I am a ward seven resident and State Director of Education Reform Now DC (“ERN DC”). ERN DC is a non-profit organization that fights for a just and equitable public education system for all students.

Thank you, Chairman and the DC Council for turning your attention to an important matter that has been fraught for too long, and that needs reforming. I am happy to provide testimony on Bill 24-571 “Schools Full Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021” and Bill 24-570 “Schools First in Budgeting Amendment Act of 2021.”

Money is essential, but money alone is not enough to fix the complicated challenges in our public education system. It’s not just about how much money is allocated, it’s about resource equity, that is, how effectively our leaders spend their funds and whether funds are distributed equitably with resources following students where they are now. It is vital that the District seek to understand the root causes of our resource equity challenges so we can identify solutions that ensure students with higher needs have access to the right amount and combination of resources necessary to have a joyful, meaningful, and high-quality public education that sets them on a path of success.

School funding must be equitable, flexible, transparent and accessible, and predictable and stable.

  • Equitable, with resources following students and additional spending is on students with higher needs, so all students get the resources they need to meet high standards and thrive.
  • Flexible, so that school leaders can invest in a combination of resources that drive student learning and meet the distinct needs of their students.
  • Transparent and accessible, with clear, easy-to-understand rule for where, how, and why funds are distributed, so school communities can hold districts accountable for distributing funds equitably and so that principals and families understand changes in their enrollment and student needs.
  • Predictable and stable, so that school system leaders understand how changes in their system’s context affect funding, and so that big changes in funding from year to year don’t disrupt strategies and services that are particularly important in high-need schools.

Bill 24-571 permanently freezes DCPS school budgets at 100% of what they received the year prior and Bill 24-570 prescribes a specific order in which DCPS can spend their funding. For both bills, I question whether the District will be able to meet all of these goals.

I offer three recommendations for the D.C. Council:

  1. It is my understanding that DCPS plans to release a new budgeting model. I urge the DC Council to review it before making any changes to their budgeting process. When DCPS releases this budgeting model, and I urge DCPS to do this as soon as possible, the plan must be public, easy to understand, and shared so that stakeholders regardless of income and privilege have access to this information.
  2. Create a much more transparent and accessible tracking system of expenditures across our public education system. (For example: the District received ​​$386,317,154 in the American Rescue Plan and DCPS received $1,322,728,419 that DCPS in FY2022. We also know that DCPS makes many reprogrammings throughout the year.) I regularly hear parents and advocates say they want to know how local and federal dollar are spent, how implementation is going, and whether we are on target for addressing various students outcomes. Our school communities will continue to have low trust in our government, and therefore low buy-in to any plan that is proposed, as long as we cannot adequately understand where, how, and why funds are distributed.
  3. Require a new adequacy study of the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula[1] to be completed at least every five years so we can better understand what an adequate based amount should be and the accompanying weights[2] for students so schools are funded appropriately. The last adequacy study was completed in 2014.

Thank you for allowing me to testify today. I welcome any questions you might have.


[1] 2014 DC Education Adequacy Study.


[2] 2020 UPSFF Study.