Boost in U.S. Aid Proposed for Schools in Washington

Spellings cites ‘partnership’ with nation’s capital.

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The White House is seeking a substantial jump in federal aid for the District of Columbia public schools—a proposal that the Bush administration is characterizing as a new level of partnership with local officials in the nation’s capital.

President Bush’s $74 million request for K-12 programs in Washington in fiscal 2009, contained in the administration’s federal budget plan released Feb. 4, includes $20 million in one-time appropriations to bolster student achievement in the 50,000-student school district.

The proposal, which would be an 81 percent increase from the fiscal 2008 level for K-12 education in the city, also seeks extra money for programs that embrace policies the administration has sought to advance nationwide, including charter schools and expanded school choice.

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings called the request “an unprecedented partnership” between the Washington city government and the administration. She said the federal Department of Education worked closely with Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat, and Michelle A. Rhee, the schools chancellor, in crafting the request.

Mayor Fenty assumed greater authority over the school system last June. His first act was to replace Clifford B. Janey, who had led the school district since 2004, with Ms. Rhee, the founder of the New Teacher Project, a nonprofit organization in New York City that places novice teachers in struggling schools. Ms. Rhee, who had never served as a schools superintendent, was considered a surprise, unconventional pick. ("Mayor Takes Control, Picks Novice to Lead Troubled D.C. District," June 20, 2007.)

Although the District of Columbia has home-rule authority, Congress must approve the budget for the city and its school system, which routinely includes federal aid.

The proposed $20 million in one-time funding includes $3.5 million to recruit and train school leaders, $7 million for school improvement efforts, and $7.5 million for data systems to track student outcomes and provide information about school performance to parents.

Help for Charter Schools

Mr. Bush’s plan also proposes $2 million to support data reporting requirements in the school system’s new performance-pay program. The program gives salary bonuses to teachers, principals, and even custodians at schools that bring all their students to proficiency or achieve significant gains on reading and mathematics assessments.

President Bush’s budget also calls for $18 million for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a private-school-voucher experiment enacted in 2004, or a 21.6 percent increase from fiscal 2008. The money would be used to increase the maximum tuition-voucher amount for high school students from $7,500 to $12,000, and provide annual increases in individual vouchers indexed to inflation. The program serves more than 1,900 students annually in kindergarten through grade 12.

And the proposal would boost spending on charter schools in Washington to $18 million, a 38.5 percent increase from the current level. The request includes $10 million for charter school facilities, and $5 million to replicate high-performing charter schools at new locations in Washington.

The request “shows [the administration’s] policy priorities,” including expanded school choice and charters, said Erika B. Landberg, the program director for D.C. Voice, a non-profit group that advocate for the city’s public schools. But many of the proposals, particularly for training school leaders and tracking student outcomes, “correspond to real need,” financing the “kind of thing that’s hard to pull out of your regular operating budget,” she said.

PHOTO: President Bush, first lady Laura Bush, and Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty meet with students at the Martin Luther King Jr. Library in the nation’s capital last month. The Bush administration has proposed a hike in federal aid for the city’s schools.
—Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

Vol. 27, Issue 24, Page 8

Published in Print: February 20, 2008, as Boost in U.S. Aid Proposed For Schools in Washington
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