- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

Superintendent Paul Vance unveiled his fiscal 2004 school budget on Monday, and there appear to be no shockers. He requested an operating budget of $848 million. While there appears to be a $107 million increase over this year, keep in mind that Congress has not approved the city's current budget, so spending this year remains at the same level as last year or, as the superintendent said, "allows us to run in place." Still, even though there are no surprises for next year, there is concern.
The No Child Left Behind Initiative, the education-reform legislation that President Bush signed into law in January, calls for considerable federal mandates from testing students and teachers, to reaching out to parents (and keeping accurate records). We never wholeheartedly endorsed the legislation that Congress eventually approved, because it diminishes local control of schools and allows federal bureaucracies to tighten their grip. Yet, here we are.
One of the chief concerns is that the District's troubled system, which is struggling to reach a measure of respect regarding student achievement, is now saddled with trying to raise the bar while simultaneously meeting unfunded federal mandates. Whether Mr. Vance's budget adequately addresses those issues is not yet known. Another concern is funding for charter school students. In his remarks Monday, Mr. Vance cited funding "an educational foundation" for the school system's 67,500 pupils. But what about the 11,500 students in public charter schools? Are their academic needs sufficiently addressed in his FY 2004 budget?
Academic fundamentals are still beyond the grasp of the vast majority of adolescents and teens, and the spiraling costs of special education programs are still driving the budget. Meanwhile, the parents of one in seven school-age children are opting out of traditional public schools. Those are the realities.
The superintendent and school board will hear those and other concerns firsthand tomorrow night, when they hold the first public airing of the budget proposal. Policymakers would be wise to listen and readjust the budget accordingly.

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