- The Washington Times
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The D.C. Council unanimously proposed Tuesday to bolster funds for charter schools, restore cuts to adult-education programs and leave several aspects of the mayor’s education spending plans unchanged.

But lawmakers also postponed action on a tentative teachers contract.

The actions — undertaken by the Committee of the Whole, which oversees all public education measures — followed Monday’s news from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty that funding for a new four-year contract for D.C. public schoolteachers had been certified by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

“I appreciate the confidence in the progress of [the D.C. Public Schools], as expressed by the committees vote to fully fund the mayors proposed budget for DCPS,” schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wrote in an e-mail to The Washington Times.

“The budget voted on today will fully fund the proposed contract with the Washington Teachers Union and allow us to move forward with the critical reforms under way that directly support student achievement. We look forward to working with the council over the coming weeks as they make final deliberations on the [fiscal 2011] budget,” she said.

The contract calls for an estimated $20 million in raises for teachers, including a highly watched, voluntary merit-pay program.

Lawmakers repeatedly have said they support increasing salaries for teachers, whose contract expired in 2007. However, legislators on Tuesday said the CFO must provide more detailed information on the agreement and other budget matters before they vote on the mayor’s plans.

Council members have “major concerns about budget issues, … the need to fund teacher raises and some other initiatives in the proposed WTU contract; the existence, or lack thereof, of a surplus in local school budgets; unilateral reallocation of monies appropriated by the council; and reductions in teaching positions,” said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, speaking on behalf of his 12 colleagues.

The mayor proposes giving charter schools about $2,800 per student for facilities, which charter advocates say is insufficient to cover everything from rent to maintenance to utilities.

With charter-school advocates threatening to sue over what they deem funding inequities, the council yesterday proposed that charters receive $3,000 per pupil in facility funds.

Some charter advocates, however, are concerned about an element of uncertainly regarding the funds, which are tied to a federal funding pot of school money. Those dollars could be withdrawn by Congress at any time, jeopardizing loan negotiations made by charter schools.

“We welcome the increase for the charter schools,” Barnaby Towns, spokesman for D.C.-based Focus on Choice in Urban Schools, told The Times. “It seems it’s not really up to the council whether the charters get the money … . What the charter schools are really looking for is money to cover their facilities costs and the inequity there that needs addressing.

“We’re sure the council actions are well-intentioned,” he added.

The council also proposed restoring $965,000 to the city’s adult-education programs.

Students and advocates of adult education recently testified before the council on the progress being made by students and graduates of the program. Ms. Rhee told lawmakers last week that some of the funding loss was attributed to the fact that some students could not prove D.C. residency.

The council will reconsider the mayor’s proposals during the May 18 and May 26 legislative sessions.

• Victor Morton can be reached at vmorton@washingtontimes.com.

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