With Sufficient Resources, Schools Can Put All Students on a Path to Success

September 15, 2017 by Christopher Meyer in Blog, Education

A great public education system is one of the building blocks of Maryland’s prosperity. But as multiple independent analyses have shown, our school system doesn’t currently provide the same opportunities to all children. An education system that leaves many behind is out of step with Marylanders’ commitment to enable all children to achieve their full potential. It will also undermine our economy in the long run. The Kirwan Commission—the body charged with reviewing the state’s education policies—has a rare opportunity to strengthen Maryland’s school system. Decisions the commission will make in the coming months will affect Maryland children for many years to come.Teacher and students

A new MDCEP report examines one of the most important policies the Kirwan Commission is reviewing: compensatory education aid, or targeted funding intended to help schools effectively serve low-income students. This funding is necessary because children in low-income families often face barriers to success in school. When families struggle to put food on the table or keep a roof over their heads, it takes a toll on kids’ bodies and minds. For some, this means not getting enough to eat or living in a home that exposes them to lead. For many, it means chronic physiological stress that can impair brain development. Research links each one of these experiences to a higher chance of falling behind academically.

Fortunately, we know what steps we can take to help children overcome these obstacles. One step is to address them directly by ensuring that jobs pay a living wage and families have necessities like healthy food and a home in a thriving neighborhood. An equally important step is to ensure all schools have sufficient resources to provide an excellent education. Strong evidence makes clear that investing in schools pays off, and that it is most essential for children in struggling families.

Here’s what policymakers can do to strengthen Maryland’s compensatory education system and guarantee all children the chance to learn and thrive:

  • Modernize the way low-income students are counted. To distribute targeted aid effectively, the state needs accurate data on how many low-income students go to school in each district. The traditional method, based on eligibility for free and reduced-price lunch, is becoming less effective because some schools no longer have to collect applications for this program—a positive change for children and their families. Another method, called direct certification, involves matching school records with existing income data from other public agencies. Direct certification accurately identifies students facing obstacles without creating extra paperwork.
  • Strengthen support for low-income districts. Maryland’s lower-income school districts are less well funded than wealthier districts. That makes it harder for them to balance their budgets, attract well-qualified teachers, and ensure that students succeed. To fix this imbalance, Maryland should strengthen compensatory education by increasing the low-income student weight used in the funding formula.
  • Target resources toward concentrations of poverty. Currently, school districts get the same amount of compensatory education aid for each low-income student. However, the barriers children face magnify when large numbers of low-income students attend the same school. This makes it harder for all students in the school to succeed. Providing additional resources in communities that face concentrated poverty would enable students in these areas to access the supports they need to thrive.

Maryland schools at their best show what is possible when we make strong investments in learning. However, not all children in our state have the same access to a first-rate education. Thanks to the Kirwan Commission, we now have a rare chance to change that. If Maryland strengthens its supports for students who face barriers to learning, we can build an education system to be proud of.