The District of Columbia budget review season has garnered attention and increased the discussion about how to expand the quality of public education for all children. The proposed 2013 District of Columbia budget includes $5.9B in local funds. Of this local budget, $1.59B (27.1%) is being allocated for public education.
For parents of children in PreK-12, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) budgets are at the core of the public education quality debate. OSSE’s proposed local budget for 2013 is $828.9M. One specific area in this budget that has attracted attention is the decrease in proposed funding for non-publics. Non-Publics are privately operated schools that specialize in providing educational services to special education students with severe needs that cannot be met in the public school. The proposed local 2012 funding for non-publics was $150.2M, whereas the 2013 proposed funding is $109.9M. This is a $40.3M decrease in proposed funding. This difference raises questions about reintegration of students from non-publics into the public schools. It also implies that the process for parents seeking a non-public placement is likely going to become even more strenuous.
The proposed 2013 budget for OSSE includes $16M local funding for special education. OSSE goals for 2013 in special education are to create a Medicaid Recovery System, implement Early Intervention Expansion plan, achieve or exceed IDEA Part C Performance Benchmarks, implement special education quality initiative and expand Part C of IDEA. With continuing efforts by OSSE to lower the eligibility criterion for Part C and increase early identification, there is a growing concern by community advocates of where additional dollars will be obtained to serve the increase number of children who will be identified as a result of these changes to Part C.
The proposed 2013 local OSSE budget also includes a $51.7M increase in funding for charter schools. This difference is based on several factors, including the rising increase in enrollment for charters. Currently, 41% of the students in the District of Columbia attend charter schools. Other areas that are expected to see increased changes in the proposed 2013 OSSE budget are Early Childhood Education and Transportation. OSSE has made stellar gains in early childhood with increased enrollment in school. The District of Columbia currently ranks #1 nationally for the number of 3 and 4 year olds enrolled in preschool. OSSE is also responsible for providing transportation services to students who qualify for transportation. There is a $1.5M increase in Transportation funding in the proposed 2013 budget. OSSE plans to replace its aging yellow school buses with new multi-purpose vehicles that resemble the style of Metro-Access vans. This replacement in fleet will also help to remove the negative stigma and bullying experienced by special needs children who ride the yellow school buses. OSSE also plans to launch an alternative transportation outreach campaign and create a transportation policy for the District.
Overall, OSSE has achieved many accomplishments from last fiscal year and has big future plans to continue to improve the quality of education for all children in the District of Columbia. Parents and community advocates are anticipating the future improvements.