Strong schools work for our students, our communities, and Maryland. But for too long and in too many places in our state, kids haven’t had the same access to a great education. 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 have been annually underfunded by $2.9 billion for years. That’s an average of $2 million in underfunding in each and every school in Maryland.
Educators have been leading the fight, successfully, to revamp and improve Maryland’s school funding formula. We’ve advocated not just to more adequately fund our schools, but to more equitably fund them so that every student in every neighborhood has a great public school.
During the 2019 General Assembly session, legislators in Annapolis took important first steps, based on the work of the Kirwan Commission, to address the underfunding of our schools by passing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The bill increases education funding by $1.1 billion over the next three years to raise teacher pay and implement programs to help low-income and special education students. Thanks to the bill, teachers and other educators will see their largest raise since the 2008 recession. Schools will hire more special educators and paraprofessionals to help struggling learners and students with disabilities. More than 200 high-poverty schools will become community schools where wrap-around services such as counseling and healthcare will break down economic barriers to learning. This bipartisan legislation—on the heels of the March for Our Schools, the largest rally in Annapolis in nearly a decade—is a bold first step toward Maryland’s future success.
In November 2019—after three years of meetings, research, and public hearings about Maryland’s underfunded public schools—the Kirwan Commission held its final meeting and took its final votes. The commission’s recommendations include proven measures such as expanding career technical education, community schools, and pre-k; increasing educator pay; hiring more educators to increase individual attention for students and to expand teacher planning and collaboration time; and providing more support for special education and mental health services. Phased in over 10 years, implementing these recommendations would lead to an additional $4 billion invested in public schools across Maryland.
The Kirwan Commission recommendations were passed as an expanded version of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill in an overwhelming, bipartisan vote by the 2020 General Assembly. Unfortunately, Governor Hogan stopped progress in its tracks by vetoing the bill, despite the overwhelming support it has among Marylanders and the overdue need to update the funding formula. MSEA and education activists continued to advocate for the Blueprint, and in February 2021, the General Assembly overrode the governor’s misguided veto. The override of the veto finally put in place a new funding formula for our schools and set a long-term vision and direction for improved funding and support for our students.
The long-term effects of underfunding have been stark, underscoring the need for a new funding formula for our schools. 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 last time the state funding formula was revised nearly 20 years ago, 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. Maryland now 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 student to teacher 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. A statewide survey of educators in 2019 found that 50% of educators work a second job to make ends meet and 94% buy school supplies for their students out of their own pockets. Poll after poll has shown that Marylanders overwhelmingly want to close the funding gap in the state and support the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.
When Marylanders approved casino gaming, voters thought the new revenue would increase education funding. But instead, Gov. O’Malley used $500 million of that money elsewhere in his budgets, followed by Gov. Hogan diverting $1.4 billion of casino money to plug holes in other parts of his budgets. In 2018, educators successfully fought for the passage of the Fix the Fund Act, which put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot (Question 1) to finally stop this budget gimmick and provide a $500 million annual increase in school funding. Question 1 passed overwhelmingly, with more votes than anything else on the ballot and by the widest margin of any Maryland ballot measure in more than 20 years. It’s clear that Marylanders want increased funding for public schools, and Question 1 was the first step in making that a reality.