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School funding in Baltimore City, County will be flat next year, but costs are rising due to pandemic

Local school systems were expecting an increase in funding that could be used to reduce class sizes, bring in more social workers and provide teachers a raise. Now school leaders are being told they won’t get that boost for education this year.
Local school systems were expecting an increase in funding that could be used to reduce class sizes, bring in more social workers and provide teachers a raise. Now school leaders are being told they won’t get that boost for education this year. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Before the coronavirus pandemic, local school systems were expecting an increase in funding that could be used to reduce class sizes, bring in more social workers and provide teachers a raise.

Now school leaders are being told they won’t get that boost in local funding for education this year, although additional state funding promised more than a year ago will provide some help.

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Even if they enter the year without cuts to their budget, school leaders in Baltimore and Baltimore County say they will need to reallocate dollars as they pay for the costs of a pandemic — including purchasing masks and thermometers and adding buses and computers.

In Baltimore City, schools’ chief of staff Alison Perkins-Cohen said there’s no substantial reduction in city and state funding. State funding has continued to increase under legislation which was intended to provide a bridge to the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future, also known as the Kirwan legislation, which would substantially increase school funding over many years. That bill was vetoed by Gov. Larry Hogan, but the veto does not eliminate the already-budgeted additional state money coming to schools in the fiscal year beginning in July.

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So the city school system is expected to add positions to 20 schools that have been identified as “intensive learning sites” with the goal of increasing reading levels and student social and emotional health. The school system is also making retaining black teachers a priority, as well as teacher training.

The Baltimore City Council’s Budget and Appropriations Committee will hold a virtual hearing on the $1.16 billion spending plan on Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Information on how to watch the hearing is available on the City Council website.

The Baltimore City school system will have to reallocate some money in the budget to pay the significant additional costs of educating students during the pandemic, said Perkins-Cohen. National school groups have estimated the cost at about $486 per student, or about $32 million for the city.

The uncertainty of state funding in subsequent years is a cause for concern as well, said Perkins-Cohen. “How do we meet the needs of students and create stability for the long term?"

Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonte Brown said in a statement that the budget “is inadequate to address the historical neglect of the black community in Baltimore and the needs of the growing immigrant population.” She called for the budget process to be more democratic, and for the school board — which is not elected — and principals to have less influence. The union would like to see more input in the process from parents and teachers.

In Baltimore County, where school leaders had requested a significant funding increase, the county has said the school system will only provide the same per pupil allotment as in past years and is negotiating a new contract with the teachers union.

The school board and superintendent had proposed a $1.84 billion budget, including an additional $145 million in county school funding over the current year. The school system had wanted to add more than 400 new teachers to get back to staffing levels that were common a decade ago, including more teachers for special education and English learners.

The school board had wanted to pay teachers more to lengthen the school day for high schoolers who are going to class fewer hours than most in the state, and give teachers an increase in pay.

The county executive cut the budget to $1.76 million in March, but further reductions have been made since. The county is keeping its commitment to maintain the current funding levels only, adding $7.6 million, just enough to maintain the per pupil spending. The county adds about 1,000 new students each year, requiring an increase so that each student receives the same amount as the year before.

Baltimore County school administrators declined to comment on how they might reduce the budget they had proposed in January by more than $100 million. The school board must vote on the budget at its next meeting, just days before it takes effect.

The county school system is still negotiating a new contract with its teachers, and Teachers Association of Baltimore County President Cindy Sexton said the teachers are still hoping for some pay increase in the next contract. The teacher contract expires on June 30. Sexton’s largest concern is the loss of new teaching positions, which would have helped students reduce the significant learning gaps expected after months of remote instruction.

“I am concerned that we won’t have enough supports in place for our students,” she said.

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If students don’t go back to school in the fall, she said, she worries that some teachers “will say, ‘I am not going to do this,’ and resign." She acknowledges the reality of the budget this year, however, saying the county is doing the best it can.

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