DC Council, Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Education, and Chancellor
United States of America

Last year, the DC Council passed a law requiring additional funding for "at-risk" students.

A group of parents from a diverse group of schools has drafted a letter supporting this new budget priority. Parent's organizations and individuals are invited to sign on to show their support.

Dear Councilmembers, Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Chancellor,

We are a diverse group of parent organizations and individuals writing to support your recent commitment to provide increased funding for at-risk students in the FY2016 individual school budgets. This is a critical step to ensure that every child in the District has the support to succeed and thrive.

We urge you to affirm and expand this commitment, and also encourage you to work with schools to refine the funding process to provide for more effective use of funds. Finally, we ask you to foster stability for schools by preventing the loss of significant amounts of per-pupil funding this year as a result of evolving budget priorities.

We thank the Council for recently passing legislation providing for certain designated funding to be distributed to schools in proportion to the number of students “at-risk.” “At-risk” students are our most vulnerable: they are students who are homeless, in foster care, very low income, or who are high school students a year or more older than grade level. We are also grateful to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor, and Chancellor for the proposal to fully implement this statute in the FY 2016 budget. We are aware that a 25 percent reduction in central office staff and other sacrifices were made to support this and other important priorities, such as funding for middle and high schools, and we appreciate these sacrifices.

The recent steps to prioritize funding for at-risk students appropriately recognize that these students face exceptional challenges that place them at higher risk of falling behind academically or dropping out of the education system altogether. Students at-risk too often must grapple with significant financial and social instability. They return from school each day to homes where food and other basic necessities are not always available, and books, technology, and enrichment materials are an unaffordable luxury. Moreover, large numbers of at-risk students are concentrated in specific schools, disproportionately burdening these institutions with the responsibility to meet the increased academic, social, and emotional needs of this especially vulnerable population.

Additional at-risk funding is an important way to for schools across the city to begin closing the gap for at-risk students. This year’s funding will provide additional social workers to counsel children traumatized by violent crime, guidance counselors for recent immigrants striving to navigate a new culture, and behavioral support staff to assist children who struggle to manage life in the classroom while dealing with significant stress at home. It will also provide library books, art supplies, and other enrichment materials to ensure that school is a positive and affirming experience, especially for students who face challenges in the classroom.

We therefore urge you to uphold your commitment to support at-risk students in the coming fiscal year and future years. In addition, we hope that this support can be strengthened and expanded to include our alternative schools Luke C. Moore and Washington Metropolitan, which did not qualify for at-risk funds this year but also serve at-risk populations.

We also urge the Council, Mayor’s Office, and DCPS to work with schools to ensure effective use of funds, striking an appropriate balance between offering guidance and allowing flexibility at the school level. Such flexibility is important because funding that is useful in some settings may not be useful in others. For example, a school that wins a large corporate grant for library books may not need its at-risk library allocation during the grant year. We therefore support steps to make it easier to move at-risk funds from one program to another or “bank” these funds for use the following year. Also, it would be helpful if DCPS could provide more opportunities for community feedback on individual school budgets. This year’s one-week budget feedback period was insufficient for some schools to facilitate meaningful communication with stakeholders. As an initial step, we ask that DCPS meet with school communities in November 2015 to explore the impact of the new funding and to start the budget process for SY 2016-17.

Finally, while we support the priorities in this year’s budget, we recognize that reductions in the per-pupil minimum allotment have led to large decreases in per-pupil funding at some schools this year. Stability from year to year is important for all DCPS schools. The Council has recognized this by ensuring that each school will receive no less than 95% of its overall funding from one year to the next, absent special circumstances. While not currently in the law, we hope the Council and Mayor’s Office will work together to ensure that no school receives less than 95% of its per pupil funding when budgets are finally enacted this Spring.

In summary, we ask that you:

1. Affirm the commitment to additional funding for at-risk students and expand the benefit to alternative schools,
2. Work with schools to refine the funding process to ensure effective use of funds through greater flexibility, and
3. Provide stability for schools by preventing the loss of significant amounts of per-pupil funding this year as result of evolving budget priorities.

We hope that you take our message into consideration as you move forward with the FY2016 budgeting process.

The Letter in Support of Additional Funding for At-Risk Students petition to DC Council, Mayor, Deputy Mayor for Education, and Chancellor was written by Sarah and is in the category Education at GoPetition.