Maryland's school funding formula: What needs to change to help Baltimore schools?

Maryland's school funding formula: What needs to change to help Baltimore schools?

BALTIMORE (WBFF) -- How to fix Baltimore City’s struggling school system has been a divisive and contentious issue in our state for years.

Lawmakers in Annapolis and Baltimore all have different ideas on what will work.

Project Baltimore is looking into some of those ideas and the push to change how we fund our schools.

“There's a tremendous amount of urgency, every day," says Bebe Verdery, Director of the ACLU of Maryland’s Education Reform Project.

“The state of the schools today, it’s a sad situation,” says Chris Summers, President of the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

Verdery and Summers agree that Baltimore City Schools are in trouble, but what they don’t agree on is why.

"I think it's a money issue,” says Verdery. “We've never had a fully funded school system.”

But Summers says, “The entire system needs to change- fundamentally change the way it’s delivering its product.”

Baltimore City Schools spends about $16,000 per student every year, the fourth highest in the nation. But Verdery says it should be more.

In 2002, Maryland adopted what is known as the Thornton Funding Formula, which doubled state aid to City Schools.

But critics say tax breaks offered to developers largely along Baltimore’s waterfront are cutting into that funding. That’s because as the city grows wealthier, it gets less state aid, since it should have more money for education. But many of the developers are getting tax breaks, so there’s less revenue for the city and its schools.

"Maryland values education,” Verdery says. “That is going to come with a price tag."

Verdery now favors a new funding formula, spearheaded by the Kirwan Commission, which is tasked to recommend changes in how Maryland funds public schools. The idea is to inject more tax dollars into poorer districts like Baltimore City, in part, by adjusting for those developer tax breaks. But some say, more money won’t matter.

Project Baltimore compared state funding to test scores. From 2007 to 2014, under the Thornton Plan, state taxpayers increased City Schools’ funding by $170 million or 22 percent. In those same years, English proficiency for third to eighth graders went up 9 percent. But math scores plummeted by 13 percent.

When asked if Thornton worked the way it was intended, Summers said, “The answer is emphatically no. It did not work.”

And when asked if the potential changes made by the Kirwan Commission will work, Summers had this to say, “Regardless of how much money you throw at the system it’s not moving the needle as far as test scores.”

So, while state and local leaders continue to be divided over what will move those test scores, they are united in their motivation to try something.

"We want what most parents in Maryland want for their children. But we want it for all children. Not just some,” Verdery says.

“It is a civil rights issue when you have a majority of these low income children that are forced to go to a failing and poor performing school and receive subpar quality education,” Summers says.

Sources tell Project Baltimore that a new school funding formula from the Kirwan Commission is not expected for about three more years.

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