Parents United for D.C. Public Schools, whose onerous fire-safety lawsuit kept the city and school reform tied up in legal knots for years, has given Mayor Tony Williams 21 F’s for failing “to invest adequately in the basic components” of public schooling. The group also has requested that the mayor infuse his 2006 school budget proposal of $780 million with an additional $200 million. Parents United claims to advocate on behalf of D.C. students, which can be a good thing. The problem is that the self-proclaimed “institutional memory on public education” supports funding the status quo and is wrong to blame the mayor for “underfunding” schools.
In fact, the Williams administration and the D.C. Council have increased school funding by an estimated 43 percent since 1999. Also, neither the executive nor legislative branches holds sway over D.C. Public Schools. The mayor and council members can recommend policies and legislate; but the D.C. Board Education directs the school system and the superintendent. Nor is money the issue. Indeed, as two high-level members of Parents United pointed out Sunday in The Washington Post, the city’s annual per-pupil spending is more than $11,000. That’s more than two semesters of study at some public colleges in the Washington region — colleges that have to offer remedial courses to D.C. high-school graduates before they can become bona fide freshman.
Parents United’s unfair criticism of the mayor coincides with the release of its report “Separate and Unequal: The State of District of Columbia Public Schools Fifty Years after Brown and Bolling.” While the report offers new data, it offers little new news. In fact, it says what every substantial report on D.C. schools has said since the 1954 Brown and Bolling cases that were before the Supreme Court. That is, there is not enough money, the course work is inadequate and poor black children hurt the worse.
No doubt D.C. Council members and other critics of Mr. Williams are looking forward to grabbing some soundbites and other quotable nuggets of “truth” from the Parents United report. Council Chairman Linda Cropp should remind her 12 colleagues that when it comes to education, it is the children in the city who are shortchanged, not the school system’s coffers.