Last week, in a dizzying string of inaccuracies, Gov. Larry Hogan expressed his “outrage” at Baltimore City Public Schools officials for their handling of freezing schools.
Years of deferred maintenance projects left city school students shivering in classrooms with temperatures below 50 degrees — again. This news is not exactly, well, news. Six years ago, I was also a Baltimore City teacher forced to decide between upholding the uniform policy (no coats or hats!) or letting students freeze in my classroom. It was precisely the necessity of purchasing my own space-heaters or copy paper or books that pushed me to leave the classroom and commit to ensuring resource equity through education finance innovation.
Here’s a fact/reality-check on Governor Hogan’s statements:
“There was a story in The Sun today that because of their ineptness and mismanagement they have wasted $60 million that they were forced to return to the state.”
If Governor Hogan had read the entire article, he would have seen that the regulations on these funds put districts at a disadvantage if they cannot front the money and submit reimbursements, as wealthier districts do. The scope of projects like HVAC repairs set districts like Baltimore City up for failure under current guidelines.
“They’re one of the few jurisdictions in the state that hasn’t addressed these problems.”
They’re one of the few jurisdictions in the state with nearly 90 percent of students living in poverty and over 90 percent black and Hispanic students. They’re also one of the few jurisdictions in the state on the wrong side of a regressive funding formula, which means they are inadequately funded in relation to their tax-base and student population.
“They may be the most highly funded school system in America.”
Patently false. Worcester County receives over $17,606 per-pupil; there are other districts around the country receiving over $20,000 per-pupil. According to the Per-Pupil Revenues for Fiscal 2016, Baltimore City’s per-pupil revenues were $16,713. Compared with suburban districts like Montgomery County ($15,663) and Howard County ($15,931), that’s less than a 7 percent funding variance. However, the student need is far greater. Nearly 90 percent of Baltimore City students qualify for Free or Reduced Price Lunch (FRPL), compared to just 20-35 percent of students in Montgomery and Howard counties. Baltimore City has the highest percentage of special education students (17.1 percent); Howard County has the lowest (9.1 percent).
“We’ve put billions of dollars into the school system in school construction.”
Yet by the state’s own adequacy targets in the Thornton Commission’s Funding Formula, Maryland chronically underfunds Baltimore City’s operating budget to the tune of $290 million per year and nearly $3 billion over the past decade. The 21st Century Schools construction financing program is a great start to address the system’s capital needs, but a billion dollars is nowhere near enough investment to modernize 160 mid-20th century buildings.
“Maryland spends more than twice as much in Baltimore City as we do in the rest of the state.”
This is a misleading statement that undermines the intentional imbalance of state funding to compensate for the disparity in local revenues largely driven by property taxes. Maryland still has a regressive funding formula that consistently shortchanges poor students.
“The average school system in Maryland spends 50 percent of their budget on schools; Baltimore City spends 11 percent.”
This is in direct conflict with the Overview of Maryland Local Governments: Finance and Demographic Information, which states that spending on schools and libraries “ranged from 40.7 percent of total spending in Baltimore City to 70.6 percent in Washington County… The smaller percentage of spending targeted to education in Baltimore City was, in part, a result of the greater need for public safety and public works services. Public safety accounted for 17.1 percent of Baltimore City’s spending, the highest percentage in the State.”
“I’m as outraged as anyone in the state of Maryland.”
This is not what outrage looks like. Outrage requires showing up for kids. Outrage means demanding resource equity and safe learning spaces for all students in Maryland.
To fix this, Governor Hogan and Maryland legislators should use properly contextualized spending data to empower district leaders and collaboratively solve these fiscal challenges. There is no federal law mandating an equitable distribution of public resources. By continuing to invest in suburbs at the expense of its urban core, Maryland officials are not guilty of violating any laws — only their consciences.
Jess Gartner lives in Baltimore City and is the CEO & Founder of Allovue, a Baltimore-based education company that currently supports school districts across the nation in budgeting, managing and evaluating over $25 billion in education funding.