Bowser Spotlights Education, Wages in 2017 Budget

Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) submitted the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget and Financial Plan, which includes a record $13.4 billion spending proposal, to the Council of the District of Columbia on March 24.

The budget, entitled “A Fair Shot,” calls for a growth of about $400 million from last year’s plan and includes increased expenditure for modernizing D.C. public and charter schools, hiring more Metropolitan Police Department officers and buying more emergency vehicles.

The plan proposes a growth in overall spending by three percent, which is lower than the average rate of six percent of the past several years, to accommodate tax cuts passed by the D.C. Council two years ago.

The Council has the ability to make changes to the plan and will prepare the amended budget for its second reading process and passage by early May.

The budget also calls for a city-wide minimum wage increase to $15 per hour by 2020. In her annual State of the District Address March 22, Bowser attributed this decision to a desire to keep as many workers living and working in D.C. as possible.

“In a city as prosperous as ours, we can level the playing field, and we can make sure our residents are paid a good wage so fewer families are forced to leave,” Bowser said. “And as we raise the wage, I will also assemble a task force of leaders – from workers, to organized labor and the business community — to spend six months looking at how we work together to create a worker- and business-friendly environment in which we maintain our regional competitiveness.”

A central component of the budget is a $220 million school modernization project. Instead of receiving small, incremental increases in funding as under the previous plan, some schools will now be offered complete modernization construction packages. As a result, other schools will not receive full upgrades until after 2022.

D.C. Office of Budget and Finance Director Matt Brown explained the mayor’s decision to allocate funding to some schools and not others.

“In last year’s budget, schools were programmed for phase one renovations,” Brown said. “Rather than do short-term projects, the mayor made the decision to do full modernization. That $200 million was dedicated to schools that had already been promised money.”

The total operating budget of schools will grow by $75 million. The main reason for the increase is a surge in enrollment by more than 2,800 to nearly 91,000 students enrolled in D.C. public schools for the coming academic year. Additionally, the “per-student” funding formula used to determine schools’ operating budgets required more funding due to inflation.

Brown pointed to the factors behind the increased allocation of funding to schools and stressed the importance of this expenditure for the education of District students.

“The $75 million goes to public and charter schools based on enrollment and then an inflationary increase, and that covers the cost of education from administration to instruction,” Brown said. “It covers the total cost of educating kids.”

The budget also gave middle schools priority in funding, which Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles said aims to encourage students to stay in the District until high school graduation.

“We don’t have all families staying through middle school,” Niles said to The Washington Post. “We know that middle school is where we need to make these investments to make sure that we have our families staying in middle schools and high schools.”

An extra $2.5 million of the budget was allocated to the MPD for hiring new officers. MPD has experienced a recent drop in its ranks due to many officers retiring around the same time. Some of the money will also be used to complete implementation of the body-worn cameras program, which was introduced in October 2014.

“We’re trying to attract officers who have experience to join the D.C. police force,” Brown said. “There was a big recruiting program about 20 years ago where we recruited a lot of officers who are now retiring, and we’re trying to backfill those positions as quickly as we can.”

Bowser also proposed taking over the D.C. Jail’s Correctional Treatment Facility, which is currently run by the Corrections Corporation of America. The plan will cost the District around $6 million.

Notably, Bowser’s plan does not include funding for a crime bill approved by the D.C. Council in February that would provide training for at-risk youth likely to commit crime. At the time of the bill’s passage, Bowser had criticized it for not addressing criminal activity directly.

Brown said it is up to the D.C. Council to find funding for the program.

“It was the mayor’s decision to advance the budget in ways she thought best to keep residents of the District safe,” Brown said. “And you’ll see throughout the police department and public safety cluster investments that the mayor has made to make the city as safe as possible.”

In the closing remarks of her State of the District Address, Bowser praised the budget and the work the people of D.C. had done over the past year to help the city, promising that the District would continue to remain accountable to its citizens.

“My fellow Washingtonians, I am pleased to report tonight that the state of the District of Columbia is strong. These days are bright. Our best days are still ahead of us,” Bowser said. “Thank you very much for your trust, for believing in our vision, for challenging us to do better each and every day.”

 

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