DCPS fails to prioritize at-risk student funds

Hannah Bocian and Joanna Chait

A new report done by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute shows that about 40% of the funding designated for at-risk students in DCPS hasn’t been targeted to help them but has instead been used for other needs of the schools.

The at-risk category for education funding was added to the DCPS budget in 2013 when the formula was modified to better fit the needs of students in the district. It was specifically designed to provide money for students who either come from low-income households, are a year or more behind in high school, are homeless or in the foster care system, come from families that receive temporary assistance, or receive nutritional assistance. The 2019 DCPS school-year budget allocates 53 million dollars towards at-risk funds.

Principal Kimberly Martin explained how the money is allocated for at-risk students, detailing that a formula that designates the money each school receives for at-risk students is based on the number of at-risk students attending the school. The funding for each school can be used for anything from classroom materials to hiring a new teacher, as long as it is used to “help the students who are at-risk” succeed. Martin added that in the past the money has been used to “provide teacher training”, and that “[Wilson] did training on undoing racism, teacher professional development, honors for all, [and] science boot camps in the summer.” Director of Strategy and Logistics Brandon Hall added that the funding could be used to improve other aspects of school life including field trips, bus transportation, and new technology/equipment.

These funds are not always used to directly aid at-risk students. The DC Fiscal Policy Institute concludes that DCPSinstead used the [at-risk] funds [for] existing priorities, including improving middle schools, increasing student satisfaction, and extending the school day.” This has caused much dissatisfaction among members of the DCPS community, including parents and teachers who want the funds to be used for their original intent.

In January, Ward 6 council member Charles Allen proposed an act to shift the control of the at-risk funds from the DCPS central office to the principals and school administration. Each school administration would be able to have control of how the money is spent, rather than the DCPS officials, which is designed to help fit the specific needs of each school. It also gives control of the funding to “school leaders “ in order to better fit the specific needs of their school communities.  

Martin confirmed that no decision about how the funds will be spent this year has been made, as the deadline is around June 30th.