Education Experts: ‘Maryland Does Not Do Well on Funding Equity’

July 28, 2017 by Christopher Meyer in Blog, Education

Maryland needs to strengthen its commitment to providing an excellent education to the state’s highest-need students. This was the message Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, delivered at Wednesday’s meeting of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (often referred to as the Kirwan Commission in honor of the body’s chair). Maryland currently underinvests in the schools facing the greatest challenges, according to NCEE’s analysis. Well-chosen reforms would enable the state to boost achievement and thereby strengthen the state’s economy.

Photo by Army Medicine (Creative Commons)

Photo by Army Medicine (Creative Commons)

Tucker presented several pieces of evidence that Maryland should do more to guarantee all students a first-rate education:

  • Like many other states, the unequal wealth of Maryland’s counties translates into inequality in educational opportunities. In other countries with highly effective school systems, there is less of a link between a jurisdiction’s wealth and the amount of funding available for education, which translates into more equitable resources.
  • On average, wealthy school districts in Maryland are better funded than less-wealthy districts, and school funding in Maryland is less equitable than in the majority of states. Overall school funding in Maryland is also relatively low compared to the state’s income level. The NCEE analysis finds similar results to a MDCEP report from earlier this year.
  • Schools with the greatest needs often have the most difficulty attracting and retaining qualified teachers. High-poverty schools in Maryland have more than twice as many inexperienced or non-certified teachers as low-poverty schools, a greater disparity than in similar states like Massachusetts and New Jersey.

Tucker also recommended a number of promising strategies for ensuring that students in every part of Maryland have access to excellent public schools. Here are some highlights:

  • Provide additional resources to schools experiencing high concentrations of poverty. Schools serving predominantly low-income students face unique, intersecting challenges—such as students with health problems, high stress levels, and greater barriers to learning in early childhood. Research shows that these challenges make it harder for everyone in high-poverty schools to learn, even students from wealthier families. Providing additional resources to these schools would enable them to provide students the support they need to excel.
  • Maintain Maryland’s support for high-need schools through the funding formula’s relatively high weight for low-income students, and consider increasing the state’s special education weight. These formula weights are used to distribute targeted funding for students with specific needs. Maryland’s formula calls for more funding per low-income student than many other states, an approach backed by research. As NCEE and MDCEP’s separate analyses show, high-poverty schools in Maryland are still not as well-funded as their wealthier counterparts. Lowering the low-income weight, as another consultant group has suggested, would be counterproductive. Meanwhile, Maryland’s special education weight is lower than the weights used in most other states.
  • Improve the division of responsibility for funding schools between the state and local governments. NCEE calls for a system that rewards districts that invest more local funding in schools, but does not unfairly disadvantage lower-wealth districts. Reforms like a multiplicative income measure and an expanded guaranteed tax base would satisfy these requirements.
  • Use proven strategies like high-quality preschool, comprehensive wraparound services, and increased time for teachers to collaborate.

The Kirwan Commission is scheduled to make its final policy recommendations this December, which would enable the General Assembly to consider reform legislation during the 2018 session. The commission and the legislature should both pay attention to the impact of policy changes on the schools and students with the greatest needs. As part of a comprehensive plan that includes sufficient funding, the proposals described above would be a major step toward guaranteeing every child in Maryland a high-quality education.