Staff Editorial: At-risk school funding audit suggests need for legislative clarity

Hyde-Addison Elementary School is located at 3219 O St. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/March 2016)

We don’t envy the task of piecing together a school budget. Principals, their fellow administrators and interested parents must balance conflicting desires and practical realities while determining how to spend their school’s allotted funds — and even then, they must meet the District’s requirements about how certain pots of money must be used.

A recent review by the Office of the D.C. Auditor highlights the difficulty of this process. The audit studied the budgets and staffing at one elementary school per ward, including Bancroft, Hyde-Addison, Key and Barnard in Northwest. In every case, the agency found, the schools needed to spend their “at-risk” funding on basic staffing needs.

The District provides extra money — some $2,100 per at-risk student in the last school year — to support children in the greatest need. But the audit concluded that schools otherwise received funding inadequate to meet D.C. Public Schools’ proscribed staffing levels. This shortfall cut into at-risk funds, which were intended for services to benefit struggling students — such as extended school days or literacy specialists.

The report didn’t fault the schools, and in fact praised their general compliance with city rules, the efforts of their Local School Advisory Teams, and the logic behind most of the spending decisions. But the auditor’s office asked the D.C. Council to review what’s happening in practice; decide whether it reflects what legislators would like to see in school budgets; and, in turn, clarify applicable laws. We believe every party would appreciate a full airing of the issue before the council — prior to the pressure of an impending budget deadline.