At-Large D.C. Council member David Catania made the point during a recent schools budget hearing that he wants to ensure that the proposed spending plans for city and charter schools are in compliance with Mayor Vincent C. Grays's Fiscal Year 2014 expenditures.
Catania, chair of the council's Education Committee said there's a lack of clarity between the two school systems' spending allocations that needs to be dealt with prior to the mayor's budget being approved later this month.
"While it is difficult to put an exact dollar on the existing inequity between charter and public schools, it is clear to me that one exists," Catania said. "Some advocates have put the number at as much as $80 million per year," he said, adding that facilities maintenance, legal services, teacher retirement funds and truancy reduction initiatives are just a few of the items identified that are funded for the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) system but not for charter schools.
To that end, Catania, 45, said during a May 2 hearing at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest, that the Public Education Reform Commission – an entity that Gray helped to create in 2010 – issued a report last year that highlighted the inequities and made a number of recommendations to improve transparency and uniformity in funding.
"You are left to defend a budget, that in many ways is indefensible," Catania later told Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who fielded questions from the eight-member committee, who included Marion Barry (D-Ward 8), and Mary Cheh, 63, who represents Ward 3.
According to Gray's latest budget proposal, spending investments will actually increase for District schools, despite Henderson's controversial plan to move forward to shutter 15 of the 129 DCPS buildings by the end of next year.
Overall, DCPS will receive about a one percent increase over its current budget of $811 million, to the proposed $818 million earmarked for 2014.
While the 2013-14 school year budget outlined by Henderson's administration includes significant reductions within the Central Office, it emphasizes investments in recruiting and retaining highly-effective teachers. However, due to sequestration issues, DCPS anticipates an 8 percent reduction in federal funding, thereby justifying many of the cuts in the school system's programs and services.
"Our budget proposal reflects input from parents, community members, and teachers. It sets us on a course to meet the goals we established in A Capital Commitment," said Henderson. "Most importantly, it balances the investments we make to ensure that all students have access to the opportunities they deserve."
Over the past few decades, DCPS enrollment has dipped from 80,000 students to 46,000 students, and along the way, the District's 57 free public charter schools – which educate 41 percent of all District students – have been opening at the average rate of approximately three facilities each year since they were launched in 1997.
Alluding to schools in the poorest areas of the city, and particularly those in Ward 8 where large pockets of poverty exists, Barry said, referring to DCPS's budget, that schools in greatest need don't necessarily receive the greatest amount of funding.
"But many parents are stuck in [those] areas," Barry, 77, said of their inability to enroll their children at other schools.
Barry also touched on low reading and math scores, saying parents regularly ask him about the abysmal test results.
"It's a serious problem and parents [who can] are choosing charter schools, because DCPS is not meeting parents' [or] students' needs."
Cheh mentioned programs for talented and gifted students as a means of getting more parents to enroll their children in the DCPS system.
"No, we do not have a tested talented and gifted program," said Henderson, 44. "In fact, we have the enrichment program in part, because some of the [Rose L.] Hardy Middle School parents I met when I first became chancellor, said they wanted their children to be able to have advanced course work," she said, adding that they all agreed on the enrichment model.
"[The enrichment model] doesn't say that one child is gifted and the other is not, but it might say that one child is gifted in English and the other is gifted in math," Henderson explained. "And this is where both [students] get access to advanced course work."