Maryland’s lieutenant governor doesn’t come up in conversation much unless, for example, he’s defending the plaque honoring Confederate soldiers that House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones wanted removed from the State House. And so his appearance Wednesday evening on the campus of Goucher College seemed a charming outreach. It was both an opportunity for students to learn a bit about state politics from Boyd Rutherford and for the 62-year-old D.C. native and longtime government administrator turned lieutenant governor to polish his politician skills. And it generally succeeded with Mr. Rutherford proving mostly charming and self-effacing (acknowledging, for example, that the position of lieutenant governor comes with zero actual responsibilities unless the governor is sidelined) and the students anxious to get his views on a wide range of topics.
Excited to be at @GoucherCollege this evening for “Conversations at the Hughes Center!” Thank you to these bright students for your hard working putting together this event and having me as tonight’s guest. pic.twitter.com/xhjHvKfPE9
It went well — until the topic of Baltimore and education spending came up and that’s when the Goucher students were seriously misled. To put it simply, Lt. Gov. Rutherford is opposed to spending more money on city schools in much the same as Gov. Larry Hogan who has made opposition to Kirwan Commission education reforms and its proposed $4 billion boost in K-12 education spending his cause célèbre. And Mr. Rutherford apparently believes in a Hoganian misrepresentation of the facts as well. We don’t know whether he deliberately got the numbers wrong or is just kind of loosey-goosey with information. But given his bureaucratic background, we’re inclined to assume the former, which is why he earns Alternative Fact of the Week honors.
(Oh, and before we provide details, we feel obligated to mention he also had some choice words specifically for the Baltimore Sun Editorial Board which he complained, to the likely bewildered Goucher students, has unfairly attacked the Hogan administration for not being sufficiently supportive of the city and its schools. Among his complaints was a suggestion that board members are “lazy.” We would dispute that, but not until the interns finish peeling the grapes for our mid-morning nosh).
So what did Mr. Rutherford get wrong? Class, take note:
1. Baltimore schools are “state schools, not city schools” because the state provides 80% of their funding, he claimed. Wrong. The state does provide the majority of Baltimore’s school budget as required by law, not the governor’s good graces, but not quite that much. The Fiscal Year 2019 budget shows the state provided 69.9 percent of city school funding.
2. More money goes to pay for schools in Baltimore than any other jurisdiction, he added. Not true. Prince George’s County gets the most in Maryland by far, but that’s not especially meaningful. The better standard is per-pupil spending (otherwise places like Baltimore and P.G. are penalized for simply having more students than other jurisdictions). On a per-pupil basis, Caroline and Wicomico counties actually get a higher percentage of their school budgets from the state (74.9% and 72%, respectively). Baltimore is tied with Somerset at 69.9% followed by Allegany (69.1), Dorchester (65.8) and Washington (62.8).
These are important numbers not because Mr. Rutherford is likely to face a pop quiz anytime soon, but because Kirwan recommendations are already getting the alternative facts treatment. Average Marylanders may not realize that it’s the state, not local government, that bears ultimate responsibility for public schools. And the current funding formula is based largely on each subdivision’s per-pupil wealth. The highest is Worcester County thanks to its pricey Atlantic Ocean real estate; Baltimore is in the bottom four, which is why it’s in the top four for state aid. Odd how the Republican administration never complains about state spending on Eastern Shore and Western Maryland schools serving rural low-income households, isn’t it?
Finally, we would point to another common and highly misleading complaint the lieutenant governor repeated Wednesday. He said city schools don’t need more money. Rather, he said, they need to “take control and, in some cases, say ‘no.’” That’s just another variation on the canard that any money sent to Baltimore schools is wasted or at least certain to be spent unwisely. No doubt there is waste (every large organization has some, not to mention maddening cases of petty theft), but recent audits have given the system a clean bill of health. There’s no shortage of problems facing city schools. Even other low-income jurisdictions don’t have to deal with the ravages of violent crime quite like Baltimore educators deal with every single day. But it’s foolish to assure an audience — whether in Towson, Annapolis or anywhere in between — that sufficient funds to hire therapists and classroom aides or to train teachers and pay them what they’re worth or perhaps install new furnaces and provide clean drinking water wouldn’t prove helpful. That kind of nonsense deserves a failing grade at any level of schooling.