Often, the argument against increasing spending for something is that throwing money at a problem is no way to solve it. That is true to a point. Money alone won’t, for example, help Maryland students become more proficient at reading or math.
If, on the other hand, that money is used to increase teacher salaries so that the best teachers don’t leave, and to increase staff so that the student-teacher ratio drops to allow for more individualized attention, and to improve resources to keep pace with technology, then “throwing money" does seem as if it can help with the problem. And make no mistake, we do have a problem with education in Maryland.
In Carroll County, it’s easy to ignore that fact because our school system fares quite well when compared to other counties. In the most recent standardized testing (PARCC) scores, Carroll ranked first in math and second in English Language Arts. The numbers, however, show that four in 10 Carroll students were not proficient in Algebra 1 and four in 10 Carroll third-through-eighth graders were not proficient in reading.
And Carroll is doing well. Statewide, it’s a horror story. The proficiency rate for students taking the Algebra I exam was 27.2 percent. ELA proficiency for third-through-eighth graders (43.7%) and 10th-graders (42.6%) was higher, but still revealed that well below half of Maryland’s students know what they’re doing. In an era when education is more important than ever in relation to future earning potential, Maryland students are struggling. The state has dropped out of the top 10 in U.S. News and World Report’s public education rankings.
The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, commonly called the Kirwan commission, was formed to help Maryland regain its position among the top states in the nation. The commission is recommending major changes including expanding prekindergarten, putting more counselors and health professionals in schools, improving career preparation programs and increasing teacher salaries — all commendable idea, but coming with a hefty price tag.
A Kirwan Commission work group has recommended a 22% spending increase over the next 10 years. That has Gov. Larry Hogan and local legislators worried about how to pay for it. Even in Carroll, which already spends more money than is required by the state and would not have to come up with any extra local funding, that would likely mean either helping to pay for the rest of Maryland’s increase through a state tax increase or through funding taken away from other programs. Keep in mind, however, that Maryland ranks No. 1 in the nation in median household income yet, according to the Kirwan Commission, ranks 31st in the percentage of Gross Domestic Product spent on K-12 education.
A joint Washington Post-University of Maryland poll of a random sampling of 860 residents conducted by phone Oct. 9-14 indicated that Marylanders understand the importance of education and that they might be more willing to pay for it than lawmakers think.
The poll found that respondents ranked public education behind only crime when asked about the biggest problem facing the state. When asked if they would support the Kirwan Commission’s recommended 22 percent increase in education funding over time, 69% answered in the affirmative. When asked if they would support a half-point percentage increase in state income tax to fund that increase — which amounts to $400 per year for a household with an income of $80,000 — nearly half (45%) said yes. More than half (55%) said yes to a quarter-point percentage increase. Two-thirds of respondents said they would support legalizing recreational marijuana use and using taxes on it to fund the increases.
Just throwing money at the problem won’t fix it. But the Kirwan Commission was created to figure out what can fix it. Money going toward the commission’s recommendations in tandem with specific goals and outcomes and strict accountability, can be a big part of the solution. A majority of Marylanders, apparently, agree with that. And those who don’t, should.