Funding for classrooms, not corporations

Maryland should be proud of its educational system. We are home to some of the nation's highest performing schools, and our system ranks at the very top in several national studies and reports. That success is due to everyone — teachers, administrators, parents, and hard-working students. But let's not kid ourselves: Maryland also is home to some chronically underperforming schools. To turn around struggling classrooms, and provide a better future for children, we need options such as extending the school day that would target student learning head on. We should not be forced to fund programs that aren't working.

Legislation quickly weaving its way through Annapolis — HB 1450 and SB 1090 — seeks to do just that. Those bills would force local school systems with struggling schools to set aside funds for private and nonprofit tutoring services — known as Supplemental Educational Services (SES) — rather than giving them the flexibility to use that money to strengthen classrooms in the best way possible. Rather than giving the school community, including students and their families, a choice in how to improve instruction, these bills funnel money to private companies whether they are effective or not.

These proposals come as the Maryland State Department of Education is attempting to right a wrong perpetrated by the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. The legislation would force low-performing schools to offer services that are too often of questionable merit. Maryland has applied for flexibility from NCLB on the tutoring mandate. Maryland's proposal would not remove SES as an option, but it would end the guaranteed set aside for those programs.

Maryland currently targets, with significant funding and intense monitoring, 16 schools that are the lowest-performing in the state. By asking that SES become an option rather than a mandate, enough federal dollars would be made available to serve 63 of our lowest performing schools and some with our most significant achievement gaps. Those students deserve our help.

Some believe that Maryland's plan would take money away from parents, but the fact is that parents never get the SES money. The cash goes directly to tutoring providers in this state. Under NCLB's tutoring mandate, MSDE is required to give funding to educational service corporations. Not surprisingly, these corporations have access to the lobbying money to try to make sure that the old NCLB rules still apply.

The NCLB experience has taught us that schools and school systems know best how to use funding, not corporations. School improvement is not easy, and school systems need options when turning around schools. Our plan for NCLB flexibility was developed after months of outreach to parents and the educational community. Maryland has had some remarkable success stories at schools in Baltimore and throughout the state, but only when critical resources are available.

All 24 school systems have embraced MSDE's plan for NCLB flexibility because they know it will work for Maryland's children.

The bills currently before the Maryland General Assembly are designed not only to keep the old SES rule in place in the five school districts that are currently under NCLB's SES mandate but expand that rule to at least nine more districts. Montgomery County would be required to reserve $3.1 million dollars for SES providers to work in only four schools. Anne Arundel would have to reserve $1.6 million for one school. Approximately $11 million is mandated to be spent in the five districts covered by the current law. The legislation would force more systems to spend an additional $24 million on corporations rather than schools.

SES is a successful business. But SES has not proven to be so successful in turning around schools. Several years of SES services have not significantly reduced achievement gaps.

Maryland's NCLB flexibility application to the federal government centers the decision making about what is best for students and families in low performing schools with the school communities — administrators, teachers and families — that have made this state's public education system the envy of the nation.

Flexibility will give administrators, teachers and families more options, from a longer school day to Saturday school to in-school tutoring using the latest technology. Tutoring services will remain an option that schools may choose, but only an option. We are working on solutions that will close achievement gaps, strengthen our classrooms, and give today's students the best chance at a brighter tomorrow. Eliminating the SES mandate, but allowing schools to fund SES if they choose, is one of those solutions.

Bernard J. Sadusky is interim state superintendent of schools. His email is

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