School Funding

Since legislators passed the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act (also known as the Thornton Plan) in 2002, Maryland has provided historic levels of aid to its public schools—allowing all 24 of its school systems to raise achievement levels for all groups of students and helping 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.   

For more information about the Thornton Plan, click here. 

Gov. Hogan's Anti-Public Education Record

However, this trend of increased state school aid has been put in jeopardy by Gov. Larry Hogan. 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 have to make due with less this year—including increased teacher turnover in Carroll, larger class sizes in Howard, 400 fewer educators in Montgomery, and cut programs in Frederick.

Through press conferences, emails, phone calls, and community meetings, MSEA and other education advocates have held Gov. Hogan accountable for making a short-sighted political decision that hurt Maryland’s public schools. As a result, Gov. Hogan’s public approval ratings on education matters are worse than his ratings on any other major policy issue—deservedly so.

And he noticed. When it came time to put together his second and third budgets, the governor opted not to take on K-12 funding again—choosing instead to fully fund our schools the way he should have all along. 

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.

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. We also have seen large expansions of diversity in our student population, which comes with key advantages but also costs we can no longer ignore. 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.

While Thornton has been a national model, we need to ensure that our state funding formula provides the equitable funding to low-income district 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.

In 2016, MSEA supported legislation creating a new education funding commission that develops a modern formula that devotes increases in education funding toward tackling child poverty and closing the achievement gap. That commission, known as the Kirwan Commission, began its work during the latter party of 2016 and will recommend a new funding formula by the 2018 General Assembly session. MSEA has a representative on that commission and will work to make sure the recommendation that goes before the General Assembly includes the significant boost to state education funding our schools need to recruit and retain the best educators, lower class sizes, and invest in early childhood and afterschool opportunities. To learn more about the Kirwan Commission's work, click here to read this MSEA Newsfeed story on a study presented to the commission finding $2.9 billion in unmet needs in our public schools.

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