Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake asked Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to release $68 million in funding for school districts at the Barclay Elementary School Monday morning. Protests over the death of Freddie Gray, a man who died of an untreated spinal cord injury while in police custody, spurred a larger conversation about economic and racial inequality in the city, which has refocused national attention on Baltimore’s public schools.
The CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools Gregory Thornton and Director of ACLU of Maryland’s Education Reform Project Bebe Verdery joined the mayor in calling for more education funding. In April, Thornton proposed a $1.3 billion budget this year that will result in 100 layoffs at the school’s central office. The district would add 40 teachers and expand early childhood education programs, technology programs and some athletic programs. Although a previous version of the Baltimore City Public Schools budget cut summer programs but it has since been restored.
The $68 million number Rawlings-Blake and others are requesting is determined by the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which is a state school aid formula established by The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act if 2002. The GCEI has been fully funded in the past six fiscal years but this year, the governor hasn’t approved half of the state’s GCEI, which would significantly affect Baltimore City Public Schools, since 17 percent or $11.6 million of that money would go to Baltimore schools.
Last week, Jeb Bush weighed in on the protests in an op-ed in The Chicago Tribune, where he argued that the amount of money spent on Baltimore public schools does not improve educational outcomes for children.
“Baltimore spends more than $15,000 per student each school year. That is more than virtually every developed nation in the world spends. And the third-highest for a large school system in America. Yet Baltimore’s results are among the worst,” Bush wrote.
Max Marchitello, policy analyst for Center for American Progress, said the issue is way more nuanced than a single number. Marchitello formerly taught high school English and coached basketball in north Philadelphia and focuses on education issues that concern low-income students and students of color.
“These schools have other problems. Their buildings may be 100 years old and they can spend 10 times the rate of a more efficient school. With all this money, you still don’t feed them very well, you don’t have a building that is not prisonlike and you’re still arresting kids,” Marchitello said of public schools in low-income areas. “It’s still inefficient to break the cycle that students seem to be engaging in.”
He also pointed out that school districts in wealthy areas spend far more money per pupil.
“It’s a question of what are you spending money on. If you look at districts in the area, you find rich schools are still spending more money per pupil,” Marchitello said. “Looking at a number without looking at what that purchases seems kind of silly.”
Less than two-thirds of high school seniors met graduation requirements and a majority of eighth grades also failed to test advanced proficient in math. That’s a stark contrast with the state’s education system as a whole, which was ranked the third best public school system in America by Education Week.
Baltimore ranks 20th among the country’s 500 largest school districts in terms of spending and 160th among school districts with at least 5,000 students. When accounting for the fact that Baltimore’s school funding gets shared with charter schools, you see that public schools don’t receive much funding per student, at only $5,336 per student next year. The governor proposed to allot more money to charter schools in the state budget but the legislature did not pass the measure.
More importantly, additional funding does appear to make a difference in students’ lives, according to 2014 National Bureau of Economic Research paper, “The Effect of School Finance Reforms on the Distribution of Spending, Academic Achievement and Adult Outcomes,” by C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson and Claudia Persico. The paper concluded that the effects are large enough to eliminate between two-thirds and all gaps in outcomes such as higher earnings and more years of completed education between children raised in poor and non-poor families.