Since legislators passed the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (also known as the Thornton Plan) in 2002, Maryland has raised achievement levels for all groups of students and helped the state’s education system become one of the best in the nation.
Maryland’s public schools ranked #1 in the country for Advanced Placement performance for a decade, #1 in Education Week’s state rankings for five years in a row, and #2 in fourth-grade reading improvement and #4 in fourth-grade math improvement on NAEP from 2003 to 2013. Our graduation rates are at an all-time high of 87%, seven points higher than when the Thornton Plan passed in 2002, driven in large part by increases among African-American and Hispanic students.
These important strides are no coincidence—they are the direct result of hard-won investments in Maryland’s public schools and the strategies that these investments fund: the recruitment and retention of great educators, the prevention of sharp increases in class sizes, and vital early childhood and after-school programming.
There is research demonstrating that increasing education funding—when those dollars support proven strategies—really does improve public schools. A 2016 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows clear evidence that the effect of increases in school resources on educational achievement is large for schools with low-income students. This is further backed up with federal data, which shows that seven of the top ten states in the 2016 Education Week rankings were also in the top ten for per pupil public education spending.
An Alternative Vision for School Funding in Maryland
Educators and legislators are working together to pave the way for the next era in public education funding. While we have accomplished a lot over the last decade under the Thornton Plan, the formula is in need of updating to reflect Maryland’s current student demographics. A 2016 study presented to the Kirwan Commission, a group of 25 education leaders tasked with revising the state’s funding formula, found that Maryland public schools are annually underfunded by $2.9 billion. That’s an average of $2 million in underfunding in each and every school in Maryland.
The truth is, the funding plan was never meant to accommodate the levels of child poverty Maryland sees today. The percentage of Maryland public school students living in poverty has more than doubled since 1990—from 22% to 45%—putting our statewide student population on the verge of becoming majority low-income. Since the first Thornton Commission, the percentage of English language learners, who require more staff and resources to catch up and stay on track with their English-speaking peers, has doubled. The number of students receiving special education services has also increased markedly.
While Thornton has been a national model, we need to ensure that our state funding formula provides the equitable funding to low-income districts that Thornton promised. Maryland ranks near the bottom of all states for funding poor districts and affluent district evenly, with federal education data showing that Maryland’s poorest school districts receive 5% less state and local education funding than Maryland’s wealthiest districts.
This underfunding has resulted in an increasing teacher to student ratio, meaning larger class sizes and less individualized instruction. Maryland teachers make 84 cents on the dollar compared to peers in similar fields with similar levels of education. Far too many support staff don’t make a living wage and must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. And in the last decade, the number of school counselors has dropped by 1.8%, the number of school librarians and media specialists has dropped by 3.8%, and the number of school support staff has dropped by 6.9%. The state has added just 385 teachers despite gaining 40,500 students, or one new teacher for every 105 new students.
Marylanders overwhelmingly want to close the funding gap in the state. A November 2017 poll found that 72% of Marylanders said they favor “fill[ing] the multi-billion dollar funding gap that public schools in Maryland are currently facing.” Only 21% oppose it. The Kirwan Commission will deliver its final recommendations in mid-2018 and the General Assembly will consider those recommendations, along with a new funding formula, during the 2019 legislative session. MSEA will be at the forefront of fighting for a significant increase in the resources and opportunities available to every student in Maryland.
For the latest news on the Kirwan Commission and school funding in Maryland, visit MSEA Newsfeed.
Gov. Hogan's Anti-Public Education Record
Since becoming Maryland’s governor, Hogan has made several attempts to cut public education funding. By cutting the Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) in half and capping the inflation factor in the Thornton formula, his first budget proposal in 2015 would have cut hundreds of millions of dollars from public schools during his term in office if it had been passed. Parents, educators, students, and school officials worked with a bipartisan group of legislators in Annapolis to reverse those cuts—including a unanimous vote on an amended budget restoring education funding in the Senate. In order to get Gov. Hogan to allocate the full funding for education set aside in this budget, the General Assembly passed legislation that would make GCEI mandatory in future years should the governor withhold the $68 million dedicated for schools.
Despite that, Gov. Hogan still withheld the $68 million for public schools. Determined not to back down in a political standoff with the General Assembly, the governor announced in a May 2015 press conference that he would not be releasing the funding allocated by the legislature. As a result, Maryland students and teachers had to make due with less—including increased teacher turnover in Carroll, larger class sizes in Howard, 400 fewer educators in Montgomery, and cut programs in Frederick.
Unfortunately, he has continued to attempt to cut education funding. In 2016, he withheld more than $20 million that the General Assembly had allocated for education funding. And in 2017, Gov. Hogan cut $20 million from after-school and summer programs, college readiness scholarships, and programs to increase teacher retention and decrease turnover. Given his record, it's no surprise that the governor has tried to distract Marylanders from the $2.9 billion in annual school underfunding during his watch.
How You Can Help
“Parents and educators know the truth about how underfunded our schools have become in the last decade. The time for budget gimmicks and temporary fixes must end. The 2018 elections will be a referendum on the question of: who is ready to pass a comprehensive plan to provide our schools and students with the funding they truly need?”
"It took four legislative sessions, but today the governor finally admitted that our public schools have billions of dollars in unmet needs. The truth is, Gov. Hogan has used the Education Trust Fund shell game gimmick to shift $1.4 billion away from education during his time in office. There’s some real hypocrisy in proposing legislation to make you do something you’ve refused to do on your own. If the governor really thinks this promise should no longer be broken—as he’s done four times—then he should send down a supplemental budget this year for public school funding that equals the difference between the increase in education funding ($139 million) and the amount of revenue raised into the Education Trust Fund ($503 million). That comes out to $364 million.”
“Another year, another Gov. Hogan budget that follows the policy priorities of Betsy DeVos rather than Marylanders. While more than 70% of Marylanders want their leaders to fill the $2.9 billion in annual underfunding that public schools face, Gov. Hogan continues to ignore it while irresponsibly increasing his private school vouchers plan that overwhelmingly benefits students already in private schools."
"Under the Hogan Administration, our public schools have been underfunded by $3 billion every single year—that means the average school in our state is underfunded by $2 million. This underfunding has led to larger class sizes and cuts to student programs. The governor should stop attacking our public schools and start rolling up his sleeves with the rest of the state’s leaders to reverse this shameful underfunding and make sure the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations become law.”
“This year’s PARCC scores are a reflection of the fact that our schools are underfunded. When you have class sizes of more than 30 kids to a teacher, when you have high teacher turnover rates because we underpay educators, and when you don’t address the non-academic barriers to learning in our communities of high poverty, you see achievement gaps persist. It’s not enough to talk about test scores—kids are never going to test their way out of poverty. We need more funding in our public schools to meet the needs of every child, and until then you’re going to keep seeing the same results," said MSEA President Betty Weller.