Citizen Commentary: Maryland Blueprint School Funding Creates Separate And Unequal
William E. “Brit” Kirwan addresses a rally of supporters of the “Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” outside the state House office building in Annapolis. Photo courtesy of Maryland Matters
Citizen Commentary: Jan Greenhawk(retired Talbot County public school teacher) – the following was originally published November 14, 2024 in the Easton Gazette
As the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future rolls out into its second full year of implementation, a horrible truth is coming to light. The funding formula set up for schools blatantly values some students over others.
Despite the Supreme Court finding in 1954 that “separate but equal” is unconstitutional, the State of Maryland wants to reinstate the idea via Blueprint funding.
In the past, counties were given funds for schools via a funding formula that factored in economic status of the county and how many students were enrolled in the district by September 30. For example, in 2016, Talbot County was 24th in the State for per pupil funding provided by the state based on the fact that the county was considered wealthy. Baltimore City, a poor district, was top in per pupil funding provided by the state. Counties like Talbot had to make up the difference between the state portion per pupil and their actual needs. Baltimore City and other poor districts had to do considerably less of the heavy lifting.
The funding was uneven from district to district. But local school boards and Superintendents could determine internally what funding would be and how to spread that money throughout their schools based on what schools needed. They had to show the state how they would spend funds and then were accountable to the state for student outcomes. They could also distribute staff in the schools as they saw fit:
The Old Model
Under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the funding will be not only be different from district to district, but from school to school based on state formulas, not local needs. The funding for the nine areas listed below will be determined by the Blueprint formulas, not local input. No longer will locals report and be held accountable for just district level student outcomes but will have to present the funding and outcomes by STATE mandated category in each school.
While making districts accountable for each school in their system is not a bad thing, the Blueprint will give the locals NO control of how to make these schools successful. Many good, effective programs will be defunded and discontinued.
In the new formula, some students are worth more state aid than others. Each district starts out with a base dollar amount for students, $8642.00 per student as determined by enrollment on September 30. This is called “foundation” money. After that comes the “add-ons.” Each struggling K-3 will get an additional $665.00 per student. The term struggling is defined by criteria determined by the State. Special Education students gain systems the base amount plus an additional 86% of the base amount added on. An English Language Learner is the base amount plus 100% of the base amount added. Finally, Free and Reduced Lunch Students are worth base amount plus $6232.00 added. Students can qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch if their family earns 300% of the Federal Poverty Level.
The chart below shows how this will work:
One can see that School A with more students will get less money than School B which has fewer students. And it’s not just a little less, it is substantially less. As the Anne Arundel Schools Superintendent stated in his explanation, children are now entities that “generate dollars” based on their demographics. This is not only a structural change, but an alarming difference as to how we view students. They are commodities.
Let’s translate this into reality. The local district will have difficult decisions to make. With limited financial and staff resources, they will have to pull staff and programs out of School A and put them into School B regardless of the number of students in each. The chart below shows how the smaller school will have more staff and therefore will have a larger average expenditure per teacher in salary. Again, this will not be determined by the locals, but by the state. The State will not care how many teachers are in a given school, the state will want a certain amount of money spent on staff in that school.
This will lead to more problems than uneven class sizes and staff shortages in some schools. Teachers and staff will be moved around like pawns on a chess board in order to meet state mandates determined by the demographic of the students who are in each school. More experienced teachers with higher salaries may be moved to schools based solely on the fact that they are needed to meet the average salary required by the Blueprint. The opposite will happen with new teachers with lower salaries. Teachers won’t be moved based on their level of expertise, but on how much money they make.
Another complication is that the funding per student in a school will change if students leave one school to go to another.
In other words, there will be no continuity of staff in schools and year to year budgeting will be a nightmare. And, let’s not forget that many systems are already short staffed.
In an effort to warn his district’s Board of Education and parent population, Anne Arundel County Chief Financial Officer Matthew Stanski presented the information in the slides above but also other information to show not only how this would affect schools but staffing expenses and financial accounting processes in the county. Currently, systems across the state are preparing budgets without knowing the rules. The projected timeline is shown below:
The Blueprint is not just a concern for one county. On August 19, Carroll County School Superintendent Cynthia McCabe explained to parents that they were “not going to like the changes” the Blueprint would cause in their schools. As a consequence of the new funding formula, schools that were successful would lose staff, funding and programs to other county schools based solely on student demographics, causing large class sizes, fewer teachers, and undoubtedly lower achievement in schools that were doing well. Again, the students become a source of funding, not children in need of education. If the goal is system wide mediocrity, they will achieve it.
Other Superintendents have voiced their concerns over the cost of the Blueprint, the loss of local control of decisions, and the “one size fits all” design of the initiative.
Some will say that this is okay. Why shouldn’t schools with more poor students, English Language Learners, etc. get more resources? The fact is that in most cases they are already. With the exception of large City school systems like Baltimore City and Prince Georges’ County, most systems in the state are addressing the issues of economic, demographic, and special needs subgroups via local programs and funding decisions. Frankly, the disaster in these larger school districts is that they have misallocated money in general and gotten very little return. For the most part, however, local boards want all of their schools to succeed, and they usually know what will work in those schools.
The Blueprint disconnects districts from solving problems in a way that fits their community. It destroys the opportunity for school district administrations to develop creative, dynamic ideas for schools to actually address the challenges of educating all of their students using sound, time tested educational practices while also looking for new, better ways to teach. Funding for those initiatives won’t be possible when the Blueprint dictates that funding be focused on others. Most of these dictates will be promoted by legislators who have no background in education and are merely passing bills to virtue signal that they care. Oh, and to spend those tax dollars!
As it is written, the Blueprint nullifies the needs for local Boards of Education and Superintendents by completely removing them from the decision making process.
It’s about State entities wanting full and complete control over schools in the State of Maryland so they can make sure that schools implement a new unconstitutional precepts separate and unequal. It’s not a Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. It’s a Blueprint for Returning to Maryland’s Past.