How deep are the proposed cuts? According to an alert sent by the Wilson PTSO, the proposed 2015-16 budget is $309,600 less than Wilson’s budget for the current school year, even as the District’s own projections see Wilson’s enrollment rising. And given DCPS’s own commitments to smaller class sizes and per-pupil funding levels, Wilson’s interim principal says the funding shortfall amounts to a $1.8 million cut to Wilson’s budget.
So Ward 3 DC Council member Mary Cheh warns in a letter to Chancellor Henderson (below) that the budget cuts will have “devastating consequences.”
The cuts will “cripple Wilson’s efforts to close its achievement gap and empower students,” Cheh writes. “Wilson plans to increase minority students’ participation in AP classes by 20 percent by next year. To achieve this goal, providing academic support through tutors, study halls, and review courses is critical. But, the proposed budget does not allow for this.”
Here’s Council member Cheh’s letter to Kaya Henderson:
Mary M. Cheh, Councilmember, Ward 3
Chair, Committee on Transportation and the Environment
March 26, 2015
Chancellor Kaya Henderson
District of Columbia Public Schools
1200 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Dear Chancellor Henderson,
I am writing to express my grave concern over the cuts made in the initial school allocations for Wilson High School. Despite a projected 10 percent increase in its student body, it will experience a 10 percent cut in per-student funding. This cut will leave Wilson with insufficient staff to manage almost 1,900 teenagers. It will also endanger the school’s continued success and jeopardize its efforts to bridge the achievement gap.
Wilson has a diverse population of students from all backgrounds and all neighborhoods of the District, and you have made investing in high schools a priority. But, cutting Wilson’s budget will harm a strong high school and thereby compromise efforts to serve almost 600 at-risk students and weaken parental confidence in the DCPS system.
Wilson is the most diverse school and the largest comprehensive, non-application high school in the District. It is located in Ward 3, but it is a District school. It serves students from every ward and every zip code in the District. Wilson has at least 44 percent or 826 students from outside its boundaries. And, its geographic in-boundary students come from five different wards, and generous grandfathering will ensure Wilson continues to serve a diverse in-boundary population for many years. It also has a sizeable number of students who need extra support. Indeed, 30 percent of its population, or 582 students, are classified as “at-risk.” That’s a larger at-risk population than either Coolidge or Roosevelt High Schools’ total student body population.
Wilson is a fast-growing school and is already experiencing a budget shortfall. Although its School Year 2014-2015 budget was based on a projected enrollment of 1,708 students, its actual verified enrollment is 1,793 students. Last year it received $15,843,048 or $9,276 per student, but with its actual enrollment, this resulted in only $8,836 per student, less than the per-pupil funding minimum. The school expects this growth trend to continue; while next year’s projected enrollment is 1,878 students, it will likely be even higher, resulting again in a smaller per pupil funding amount than the proposed budget of $8,312 per student.
Wilson’s budget per student funding this year jeopardizes its ability to operate, andit threatens gains made in bridging the achievement gap. As noted, although Wilson will experience a 10 percent increase in its student body next year, it will see a 10 percent decrease in its funds per student. The current allotment provides a mere $8,312. per student, the lowest amount by far of the last five years. Other District high schools are projected to receive on average $13,840 per student. Coolidge and Roosevelt High School will receive almost twice as much per student, but Wilson
has more than three times their student body.
This cut in per-student funding will have devastating consequences, starting with class sizes. In the current 2014-2015 school year, Wilson has funding for 99 teachers and administrative staff, but for the 2015-2016 school year, despite having 170 additional students, Wilson will only have funding for 88.8 teachers and administrative staff. With Wilson’s population size, having 10 fewer teachers means Wilson will need much larger class sizes, well above the recommended maximum of 25 students per class. In fact, the average class size for honors and Advanced Placement (AP) classes is already at 30 students and will likely be larger next year, according to the PTO and LSAT presidents. Some AP classes even have class sizes
of almost 40 students. Increasing class size runs contrary to what we know about improving student performance. And, having fewer teachers and administrators will also result in more disruptive class breaks and lunch hours, especially given Wilson’s bursting-at-the-seams student body size.
These cuts also cripple Wilson’s efforts to close its achievement gap and empower students. Wilson plans to increase minority students’ participation in AP classes by 20 percent by next year. To achieve this goal, providing academic support through tutors, study halls, and review courses is critical. But, the proposed budget does not allow for this. Without budget support, Wilson cannot provide the necessary assistance to help all its students succeed. Additionally, to increase the 9th grade promotion rate, Wilson wants to strengthen its Ninth Grade Academy. Again, the current budget leaves no room to allocate resources or staff to do so. Additionally, the current budget does not allow Wilson to have a dedicated full-time college counselor to help its students, many of whom would be the first in their families to attend college, with college and financial aid applications.
Wilson’s budget seems most affected by the decision to cut the per-pupil funding minimum (PPFM). The Fiscal Year 16 Budget Guide states that the reduction in the PPFM is, in DCPS’s estimation, the least harmful way of providing funds for “at-risk” students. Based on the effect doing so has on Wilson, I cannot agree. It seems at odds with the intention of the Fair Student Funding and School Based Budgeting Act of 2013 and will result in great harm to Wilson. Under the law, per-pupil funding is that amount necessary to ensure that all students receive proper education. At-risk funds are meant to supplement that amount because of the particular needs of specific students. Rather than supplementing a proper education, though, at-risk funds realized by cutting the per-pupil minimum threaten Wilson’s basic operations. More than simple cuts to popular programs and services, this budget raises questions about how the school can effectively provide basic instruction to its students. And, instead of ensuring Wilson’s continued success, DCPS’s proposal threatens to starve the school and endanger its achievements.
I admire your commitment to providing equality in instruction and outcomes to District students. All children deserve access to a high-quality education at a high-quality school. Some of our schools have significant room for improvement, and you have rightly made it a priority to provide those schools with needed supports. But, materially harming Wilson High School – a high school that serves the entire District – is not a strategy that will bring success to our high school programs. In fact the opposite will occur. To parents across the District who send their children to Wilson, Wilson is a model and restores confidence in DCPS. With this budget, however, you will dramatically shake that confidence. That should not be the message we send to our parents and our students. And, again, harming Wilson’s basic programs harms the very at-risk students who are supposed to be benefited – all 582 of them, a larger at-risk population than the total enrollment at either Coolidge or Roosevelt.
Together with all the District parents who send their children to Wilson High School and all who care about the integrity and continued success of DCPS high schools, I respectfully request that $900,000 be added to the Wilson budget; an amount that will still only give Wilson a mere $8,791 per student.
Mary M. Cheh