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DC schools have been asked to classify more children at risk

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Community groups are calling on the district to expand the definition of who is considered at risk for academic failure, sparking a discussion about which students would benefit the most from additional funding.

There’s no question city leaders will be ready to tackle this budget cycle, but a coalition of more than 40 groups says the need is urgent, especially after the turbulent year of learning Virtual appears to have widened the city’s already wide achievement gap among white students. and students of color.

“The past two years have been a collective trauma for our students, our schools and our communities,” the DC Students Succeed Coalition wrote in a letter to top city leaders calling for more funding for education. “In addition to the deadly pandemic that has caused so much personal pain and loss, our students have experienced disrupted learning, acute mental health issues, social isolation and upheaval from childhood.”

Currently, DC distributes additional Local Dollars to homeless or foster students, whose families qualify for food stamps, and to students who are in high school and have been held for at least one year. Based on these criteria, 47% of the city’s more than 95,000 public school children are considered at risk. The money at risk – nearly $3,000 per student – is a slice of a complicated school funding formula and is distributed in addition to the standard money allocated to each student.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) proposed a massive $2.2 billion education budget in February, a 5.9% increase from the current year, equivalent to funding base of $12,419 per student.

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Groups want at-risk funding to extend to students who have an incarcerated parent and those who are connected to the Child and Family Services Agency, even if they are not with family from homepage. They also want students who are undocumented immigrants or whose parents are undocumented to be included. Although schools are prohibited from asking children about their immigration status, advocates say the city has enough information to properly target these funds to the right schools and grade levels.

And if advocates get their demands, the biggest change to the at-risk pool would be the inclusion of adult learners — older students who take specialized public programs to receive their high school diploma or certification in certain trades. . The city’s more than 3,000 adult learners receive base funding of approximately $11,000.

Families generally don’t know if their children are considered “at risk,” but the majority of the money is supposed to follow students to the public or traditional charter school they attend.

“Many of my students have young children, and helping parents of at-risk students helps at-risk students,” said Nicole Hanrahan, executive director of LAYC Career Academy, an adult charter school. “It’s a good return on investment. It is a good policy. »

The district established the “at-risk” funding law in 2013. The extra money for these students is supposed to alleviate the effects of poverty, which can make learning more difficult. Funds could be used to pay for additional reading specialists, music teachers or extended day programs.

But numerous investigations and reports have determined that the city often spends this money incorrectly, using it to pay for routine costs rather than programs to supplement basic school offerings. In some cases, this is because many schools with high concentrations of at-risk students are under-enrolled and smaller schools cost more to operate. These schools’ budgets don’t stretch as far as larger schools, so principals end up spending money on core staff that other schools can cover with their core budgets.

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Hanrahan said there was a great need for the money at her adult education school. A third of her students who have a high school diploma read at the primary level, she said. She would use the money to hire more reading specialists and mental health workers.

The district says it has invested more resources in its most vulnerable students in recent years. Last year, the city increased the at-risk funding weight — a percentage of base funding per student that is used to determine the amount of additional funding allocated to at-risk students. There is a separate weighting for students who receive special education services and who are learning English as a second language. Although the at-risk weighting is not expected to increase next year, higher base funding per student means targeted funding will also increase.

The Bowser administration said it has increased funding for students deemed overage in high school and high school English language learners. Between 2021 and 2022, the city has distributed an additional $21 million to English language learners, which is typically used to pay bilingual and specially trained staff.

“We are convinced that the current [per student funding formula] and its corresponding weight-at-risk, is an effective model for bringing money to students who need it most and ensuring that they not only stay in school, but succeed in school” , Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn wrote in a statement. “We continued to adjust the [formula] over time and we are always open to thoughts on how to leverage the mayor’s targeted investments and bring even greater fairness to our system.

In addition to expanding eligibility for at-risk funding, the DC Students Coalition has also called for funding to increase for each student – ​​from approximately 25% of base funding to 37%. The group also urged the city to change the name of the funding category from “at risk” to “equity”, saying risk is a “pejorative, inaccurate and inadequate” label.

The DC Policy Center, a local research group, crunched the numbers and determined that expanding venture fund eligibility could cost the city between $20 million and $33 million each year. Analysts have estimated that many children who would fall under these new categories are already eligible for risk financing because their families are eligible for food stamps.

DC Policy Center executive director Yesmin Sayin Taylor and education analyst Chelsea Coffin said the biggest new expense would be on adult learners, who currently receive no funding at risk. This would cost about $10 million at the current amount of venture funding.

City data shows about 1,700 children are currently involved with the Child and Family Services Agency, but live at home.

Analysts extrapolated from available national and local data on incarceration and undocumented immigrant rates to determine how much extra money would be needed for those students.

They assumed that most students with a parent who is incarcerated are eligible for food stamps and are already eligible for at-risk funding. They believe adding these students could cost between $1.9 and $2.8 million.

“When we talk about people at risk, it’s mostly kids who have a lot of transience in their lives,” said Maya Martin Cardogan, executive director of Parents Amplifying Voices in Education, a parent advocacy group that does part of the coalition. “These are unstable housing because of the economic issues that are part of DC. They are migrant children. Their families are in and out of the prison systems, which creates instability. Are we sure we are taking care of them ? “