On March 8, parents at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School launched a campaign to lobby Mayor Muriel Bowser and DC Public Schools (DCPS) Interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander to provide additional funding to our Southwest neighborhood elementary school. Parents identified two main sources of these problems. First, Bowser’s 2018–19 budget did not provide enough funds to the school district as a whole to keep up with inflation and other higher costs. Second, the school district failed to provide a fair share of funding to higher-need schools such as Amidon-Bowen. The combination of these poor decisions threatens the education of our Southwest neighborhood children at a time when the school is making significant progress.

Although Amidon-Bowen is classified by the school district as a “priority school” needing intense support to address low student performance, this year’s budget continues a pattern of underfunding staffing, classroom information technology, and other needs.

Below are excerpts from parents’ emails sent to DCPS and/or city officials. To preserve the integrity of the budget process, which has not been completed at the time of this article’s submission, we have excluded information on specific cuts being discussed.

“I am writing to alert you to the unacceptable budget cuts at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School and to implore you to provide Amidon-Bowen with additional funding for the upcoming school year. I am a parent at Amidon-Bowen, and I am concerned that if DCPS does not increase our budget, it will hurt our students’ education and further entrench the inequality plaguing DC and DCPS.” –Betsy W. and Ava M.

“My son is in PreK-4 and has thrived at [Amidon-Bowen]. He is in a loving, supported environment which will deteriorate considerably under the new budget. I know ours is not the only family that will feel the negative repercussions. [Amidon-Bowen] has evolved so much since we moved to Southwest in 2012, and … this is an inopportune time to slash resources.” –Sylvia C.

“A key to the future success of this neighborhood will be the success of Amidon’s students. To best equip Amidon’s students and SWDC for success, the school should continue its broad base education program. I not only hope that DC budgeting will find room in its budget allocation to accommodate [current levels of staffing], but that additional funds will be allocated to ensure the school can continue to improve.” –Daniel W.

“The bottom line is this: Amidon-Bowen serves a highly ‘at risk’ population and needs more funding than schools not facing similar challenges, yet it actually receives less instructional funding on a per-student basis than a number of wealthier schools. If one cross-references school staff directories with DC public employee salary information, it shows that DCPS is spending hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of dollars more per student on instructional staff salaries at certain schools serving children from affluent backgrounds than on children attending Amidon-Bowen. If DC and DCPS are committed to equality in educational opportunities, something has to change.” –Betsy W. and Ava M.

“DCPS has said that promoting equity is a priority. And yet it continues to underfund schools like Amidon-Bowen that serve a high-need student population. … I hope that you can find a way to assist Amidon, so that it continues to be a school that enriches the lives of our children and one the neighborhood wants to attend. I am also copying the ANC reps for where I reside, as well as where Amidon is located.” –Laura M.

“Yes, I know that the mayor’s budget press release trumpeted ‘an additional $105 million to increase the per student rate and meet the needs of a growing student body.’ Here’s what else I know:

  • According to the DC Fiscal Policy institute, around $81 million of the new funding is needed just to keep up with growth in enrollment.
  • In fact, adjusted for inflation, per pupil spending is now 3% lessthan it was nearly a decade ago, in 2009. The mayor can brag about record funding all she wants, but it doesn’t take a PhD economist to know that funding that doesn’t even keep pace with inflation (or enrollment growth) is really a cut.
  • Last year, the mayor proposed a per-pupil funding increase of 1.5%. Only after some last-minute heroics from Councilmember Grosso was it increased to 2.38%—still dramatically less than the 3.5% recommended by OSSE [the Office of the State Superintendent of Education].
  • And even as schools try to claw (unsuccessfully) anywhere near a 3.5% annual increase in the per pupil rate, we’re actually around 12% below the funding recommended in the DC Education Adequacy Study commissioned by the Deputy Mayor for Education a few years ago.

Maybe we just don’t have the money? Well, all of this is happening while the district is reporting record tax surpluses and continuing to implement a series of tax cuts that won praise from Grover Norquist and The Daily Caller. …

What does this say about our values? We’re a supposedly progressive jurisdiction facing real challenges when it comes to closing the achievement gap and providing a high quality public education for all.” –Ken M.

As the last parent letter notes, what does the current state of school funding say about our city’s values and priorities? As parents, we will not sit still and tolerate cuts to our neighborhood school, even as construction cranes, The Wharf, and other new developments speak to the growing prosperity and vitality of the city.

If you also think the city should adequately fund its schools, please email Mayor Bowser (Muriel.bowser@dc.gov), as well as Councilmembers Charles Allen, David Grosso, and Robert White (callen@dccouncil.us, dgrosso@dccouncil.us, rwhite@dccouncil.us), and ask them to prioritize funding for DCPS, and specifically, our neighborhood schools: Amidon-Bowen and Jefferson Middle School Academy.

Lastly, it is not enough to provide sufficient resources to our schools; the distribution of funding must be transparent and equitable. The disparities between schools in our neighborhood and those in wealthier parts of the city are significant (and would require another article to detail). For now, we leave you with the graph below.

By: Grace Hu and Betsy Wolf

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