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Fewer Students Means More Pressure On D.C. Public Schools

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A reclassification of what constitutes a "small school" may cut the budget for many elementary schools.
Kavitha Cardoza
A reclassification of what constitutes a "small school" may cut the budget for many elementary schools.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson says even though each student attending DCPS will receive more money compared to last year, the school system's overall budget has decreased by $8 million.

Henderson says that for the past two years, the school system has received money for 47,000 students, even though the actual numbers were closer to 45,000.  But this year, she says, funding will more closely match the actual number of students enrolled. Henderson says this means DCPS won't have the money to "bolster" individual school's budgets.

"And so, where schools hadn't hit their enrollment mark, we were able to hold them harmless. This year we can't hold them harmless," Henderson says.

That's why even though a school will get approximately $200 dollars more for each student enrolled compared to last year, if they have fewer students enrolled, they will see less money. For example, she says Stuart Hobson Middle School in northeast D.C. had approximately 50 fewer students enroll. Henderson says that translates to approximately $400,000.

"When a school sees a $400,000 budget cut, that's huge," Henderson says.

Henderson says that unlike in the past, now every school will have art, music, physical education, library science and foreign languages. In some cases though, they may be part-time positions.

Soumya Bhat with the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute says there is another reason schools are feeling the pinch. Now a school with 400 students is classified a "small school." Previously that designation was used for schools with fewer than 300 students. A "small school" means fewer positions are funded for support staff. 

"With the new definition, basically most of DCPS will be considered small next year and the majority of these schools are elementary schools," Bhat says.

The public charter school system will see an increase in funding, the result of an approximately 10 percent bump in enrollment.

A schools budget hearing is scheduled this morning at City Hall with dozens of people signed up to speak.

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