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Let Me Explain the Real Issues Surrounding School Funding

I wanted to send the following in as a letter to the editor about the article in the December 2019 Hill Rag, titled “A Recipe for Education Equity.”

While I agree that funding for our schools has been and remains inadequate, the article did not fully explain a few things that are critical to understanding the issues around school funding.

(1) For one, there was mention of the misuse of at risk funds in DC Public Schools (DCPS) without any mention of the misuse of at risk funds in our charter schools, which educate roughly half of DC’s public school students.

Aside from leaving out half of our city’s students, this lack of a mention suggests that our charter schools do not misuse those funds.

But in reality, our city has no consistent reporting of these funds between sectors, and the charter board simply surveys charter schools about their uses of these funds—on a voluntary basis.

Thus, the reporting of at risk funds in DC charter schools is neither fulsome nor comparable in accuracy to that available in DCPS, which is mandated by law to give a detailed report.

This reporting lacuna in our charter sector, amounting to tens of millions of dollars annually intended for students at risk of academic failure, was revealed in detail in the auditor’s recent report from June 2019 on at risk funds. (See it here, starting on p. 30: )

(2) For another, the article mentioned that in DC’s charter schools, a per pupil funding level that is too low and no unionized workforce together mean that “some teachers do not make a living wage.”

While it is true that teachers in DC’s charter schools are not paid as well as those in DCPS (nor are they as experienced—see here for a good rundown of recent data from our state superintendent.), the reality is that no one really knows what charter teachers are paid, because that information is not publicly available!

Adding to the confusion is that some charter school administrators are paid very, very well—as in, more than the DCPS chancellor (280K) and more than our mayor (200K).

For instance, in 2016 (the last year for which we have a tax form), KIPP DC paid its CEO $282K and its COO $244K, while three other administrators were paid more than $175K each. The entire population of KIPP DC is about 6000 students.

That same year (2016), the chair of Friendship made 265K, while its CEO made $248K and its CFO made $155K; two principals each made $175K or more that year. Friendship has about 4200 students.

Smaller charter schools also paid their leaders very generously. For instance in 2016, the CEO of Achievement Prep was paid $189K; the CEO of Eagle Academy was paid $242K; and the chief academic officer of DC Prep was paid $214K, while its CEO was paid $197K and its CFO was paid $176K.

It does not necessarily follow that the teachers at these schools are paid commensurately less to support such munificent administrator compensation—but the fact that these schools together educate a fraction of the total in DCPS with high CEO/CFO pay suggests huge cost overruns that could contribute to low teacher salaries at charter schools.

It is thus not accurate to simply look at per pupil funding levels as a factor in teacher pay in charters, when other factors can play as large, if not larger, a role.

Valerie Jablow is a Capitol Hill parent.

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