What is the Thornton Funding Formula?
The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002, commonly referred to as Thornton, established a state school aid formula to ensure that schools and school systems have the resources necessary to provide every child with an adequate and equitable education. The funding system—based on recommendations made by the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence (also known as the Thornton Commission after its chair, Dr. Alvin Thornton)—was phased in from fiscal year 2003 through 2008. Since FY 2008, Thornton has been adjusted primarily by changes in enrollment and capped inflation. Local school systems are given broad flexibility to decide how to best utilize state aid to meet the needs of their students.
How Thornton Works
Thornton is designed to ensure that the quality of a child’s education is not determined by their zip code. Thornton is comprised of several programs that determine how much funding each of Maryland’s 24 local schools systems will receive from the state for operating costs.
The foundation program provides each system with a basic per pupil funding amount, which is adjusted by an inflation factor each year. The per pupil amount—which was $6,860 in fiscal year 2015—is then adjusted for every local jurisdiction depending on its property value and income levels. This ensures an equitable funding system, in which counties with less wealth (and therefore less ability to cover educational costs) receive a greater share of state aid. The foundation amount not only provides each system with a basic level of funding, but is also used to determine how much supplemental funding is allocated from the other Thornton programs.
In addition to the wealth adjusted per-pupil foundation amount, school systems receive supplemental aid for every child who needs additional resources to receive a high-quality education. There are three programs:
- Compensatory Program: The compensatory program is designed to provide extra support to students coming from backgrounds of poverty. For every student who qualifies for Free and Reduced Price Meals, school systems receive an amount equal to 97% of their per pupil foundation.
- Limited English Proficiency: For every student who is learning English as a second language, school systems receive an amount equal to 99% of their per pupil foundation.
- Special Education: For every student receiving special education services, school systems receive an amount equal to 74% of their per pupil foundation.
The state also helps even the playing field and account for additional expenses with other programs.
- Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI): Since the cost of education is different across the state, the state provides additional funding through the GCEI to make up the difference for counties where delivering education is more expensive. Using an index that values each jurisdiction’s cost of education, the GCEI formula multiplies the per pupil foundation amount for each county by the county’s predetermined adjustment factor. Thanks to the work of the General Assembly in the 2015 legislative session, GCEI is now mandatory funding.
- Net Taxable Income (NTI) Grants: One of the factors in calculating the per pupil foundation amount is each county’s NTI. In 2013, determination of NTI was changed to account for taxpayers who file later in the year, and in turn, cause the calculation to increase for certain counties and therefore reduce their per pupil foundation amount. To lessen the pain of this adjustment, counties that lose funding as a result of this change have received NTI grants, starting in fiscal year 2014 and phasing in over five years.
- Transportation: The state provides grants to assist local systems with the cost of transporting students to school. The grant includes a separate component for the transportation of students with disabilities, which equals $1,000 per student requiring special transportation enrolled in the school system the prior fiscal year.
Maryland’s school systems are also dependent on funding from local governments. Local boards of education prepare an annual budget for consideration by the local government, which must review, modify, approve, and fund the budget.
In Maryland, local governments provide, on average, 46 percent of education costs, but this varies depending on overall wealth of a locality. Some local governments pay as much as 68 percent, while others pay as little as 16 percent.
Federal funds comprise a small part of school system budgets. On average, Maryland's public schools receive about 6 percent of their revenue from the federal government. Most of the federally-funded programs are restricted by statute to provide funding for a particular need. The largest of the federal programs are:
- Elementary and Secondary Education Act (No Child Left Behind Act)
- Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
- National School Lunch Act
- Social Security and Medical Assistance Act