Testimony of Kevin Clinton
Chief Operating Officer, Federal City Council
June 25, 2021
Committee of the Whole Budget Oversight Hearing on the Budget Support Act of 2021
Chairman Phil Mendelson
Submitted for the Record:
Good morning. My name is Kevin Clinton and I am the Chief Program Officer of the Federal City Council. It’s my pleasure to testify to encourage the Committee to consider new language in the Budget Support Act related to education facilities investments.
This current budget, and its allocation of both local and federal recovery funds, presents a unique and critical opportunity to lay the groundwork for an equitable and vibrant recovery. The Mayor’s budget invests in areas that will help ensure that equitable recovery, including the digital divide, child care, support for downtown, career pathways and work-based learning, along with multi-modal transportation access and affordable housing. None of us will have succeeded if a recovered DC looks the same as the DC that existed before the pandemic.
When it comes to economic recovery, the Mayor’s budget strikes the right balance—avoiding any tax increase and lowering business fees in some cases, while at the same time using federal aid to make one-time investments that will kickstart economic growth and address the social toll of the pandemic. To mitigate that social toll, investments in K-12 education should be prioritized most highly. We were particularly pleased to see the following K-12 education investments:
- The 3.6 percent Increase in the Unified Per Student Funding Formula, the increase in the at-risk formula, new supplemental funds for those over-age in high school, and new supplemental funding for At Risk Learners.
- A new Stabilization Fund that protects schools from severe funding declines if they are slated to receive less than 95 percent of their prior year allocation. We believe that this program would benefit all schools and should be extended to charter schools as well.
- Mental Health Supports for all students to help address the impact of trauma on DC’s students, particularly over the course of the last year through the pandemic.
- High Impact Tutoring to help students make up for their unfinished learning due to reduced instruction time over the last year.
In addition to these important investments, we also ask that the DC Council provide additional support for access to adequate, affordable school facilities as a critical component of both educational recovery and acceleration of student progress.
While DC Public Schools facilities are funded in the capital budget, with maintenance through the Department of General Services, DC public charter schools must compete with the private sector in the real estate market, creating financial pressures unique to the charter sector.
Safe facilities and sufficient square footage for all students, including public charter students, are more important now than ever. Roughly 82 percent of charter LEAs report that they would face very significant, significant or moderate challenges with student and staff safety and school reopening in fall 2021 if the charter facilities allotment remains flat. For that reason, we appreciate that the Mayor’s budget has allocated $10 million for charter facilities to help schools adjust to the requirements of operating in this current environment.
However, beyond FY 2022 there is no mechanism for addressing rising facilities costs. We ask the DC Council to consider Budget Support Act language to increase the charter facilities allotment by 3.1 percent per year. (Given the availability of one-time funding in FY22, funding does not need to be provided in FY22, but a 3.1 percent increase should be included in the baseline calculation for FY23.) Why is a 3.1 percent increase needed?
- Facilities costs are rising. The Producer Price Index (PPI) for new school construction, calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen by an average of 3.1 percent annually for the last four years (2016-2020), in comparison to an average of 2.2 percent annually from 2010-2014. According to an April 2021 survey of charter Local Education Agencies (LEAs) administered by the DC Charter School Alliance, 81 percent of survey respondents anticipate increasing costs of facilities, including rent and debt service on existing buildings. Two-thirds of charter LEAs are planning for significant facilities cost increases, ranging from a 2 percent increase to a more than 10 percent increase in the 2021-22 school year. Only 5 percent of school leaders surveyed do not anticipate any rise in costs.
- The charter facilities allotment amount is insufficient to cover facilities costs. More than half of charter LEAs are unable to cover all their facility costs with charter facilities funding at the current allotment level. These schools must dip into operating funds (from UPSFF dollars or other sources) to pay their leases or debt service, maintain facilities adequate for student learning, or update facilities to meet new safety standards.
- Investments in facilities yield returns for student learning. In 2017, Mayor Bowser announced an annual 2.2 percent increase to the charter school facilities allotment for four years. This funding yielded a strong return on investment: Charter schools were able to dedicate more of their operating funding to student learning, resulting in higher student achievement and, in conjunction with effective oversight from the Public Charter School Board, more charter students than ever attending Tier 1-rated (or 4 and 5 star-rated) schools. Our local experience is reinforced by empirical research: A March 2021 NBER paper by Northwestern University economists found that increases in school funding, including capital or facilities funding, improved student test scores, increased high school graduation rates, and increased college matriculation rates.
Thank you for the opportunity to submit this testimony for the record, and for your leadership during this critical period.