As we pass the midway point of the 2017 legislative session, your 43rd District team has received many heartfelt letters, emails, calls, and visits from constituents who are deeply concerned about the funding crisis faced by the Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS). Please know that we hear you, we understand the devastating impact major budget reductions will have on our classrooms, and we are working diligently to find solutions.
We want to take this opportunity to address the issue in a comprehensive way; to explain to you how BCPS got to this point, what happens next, and what we’re doing to help. But first, we want to express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone who has taken time away from their own lives to advocate on behalf of our public schools and the children of Baltimore, especially the 2,000 parents and students with the Baltimore Education Coalition who visited Annapolis on February 23rd. We’re proud to stand with you!
HOW DID WE GET HERE?
The Baltimore City Public Schools face a budget shortfall of $129 million for Fiscal Year 2018, which covers the school year beginning in the Fall. When Dr. Santelises came on board as CEO in May of 2016, she did a top-to-bottom review of BCPS’ finances to assess their sustainability. While the results were alarming, we do want to commend Dr. Santelises for being forthright with parents, the current and former Mayor, and state policymakers about BCPS’ challenges and their causes. She has proposed layoffs of up to 1,000 school-based positions to help close the funding gap. Additionally, traditional public schools are facing shortfalls of up to $1 million per school, while public charter schools face a cut of nearly $1,000 per student. These cuts are painful in the big-picture sense, but devastating to students who may lose a favorite teacher or an enrichment program that sparks a love of learning.
The structural deficit is driven by several factors including increased operational costs, strategic investments to improve the overall quality of the system such as pre-kindergarten programs and the 21st Century Schools program, and the costs associated with serving a disproportionately high number of students who live in poverty. BCPS has laid out in detail how some of these factors have contributed to the deficit, which you can read here.
Over the past decade, the City Schools have made a number of strategic investments to help turn around the system and better serve Baltimore’s young people. For instance, City Schools funds full-day pre-kindergarten for all qualified four-year-olds, a policy that is ahead of the curve and where City Schools is in the vanguard. Unfortunately, this policy comes with a $34 million price tag that City and State funding does not cover. BCPS also has the oldest school facilities in Maryland, which lead to an historic investment of $1 billion to renovate and replace inadequate buildings called the 21st Century Schools program. This program requires an unprecedented partnership between the State, Baltimore City, and the school system, but will result in dozens of new and renovated classrooms opening over the next few years. These investments were made with an eye toward making our schools more attractive for families and boosting student enrollment. Enrollment did increase between 2010 and 2015, and these investments were sustainable based on that trend.
However, due to a number of factors, BCPS has faced declining enrollment over the last two years. This decline, combined with increased property value in relation to the rest of the state, has been a “double whammy” due to the State’s education funding formula, which bases aid primarily on student enrollment and local taxable property values. You can read a more detailed explanation of how State education aid is determined here, pages 205-219. This year, those two factors contribute to a $42 million decrease in base State aid.
We feel it is important here to clear up a couple of misconceptions about the situation our schools face:
The Baltimore Sun recently published several articles that implied a link between decreased education aid and the implementation of casino gambling in Maryland. Casino revenue is indeed going to the Education Trust Fund, and it is helping to ensure we have the resources to fund education at the level mandated by our current funding formula.
Likewise, we have heard from many parents who have wondered if the Port Covington development is a contributor to the current budget shortfall. Regardless of how one feels about the merits of the project and TIF-sponsored development generally, the fact is ground has not broken on Port Covington yet and the wealth valuations that go into the funding formulas look backward over a three year period. Last year, Delegate McIntosh sponsored and passed legislation that would hold City Schools harmless for formula funding decreases attributable to TIFs until the State can rewrite the funding formulas.
In the long term, the solution is to rewrite the educational aid formulas so that schools are adequately funded and Baltimore doesn’t have to make a choice between aid to education and economic development. The Kirwan Commission, of which Delegate McIntosh is a member, is a diverse group of education stakeholders who are working to advise the Governor and General Assembly on how to ensure adequate funding for our state’s public schools. The commission will continue to meet throughout 2017 and give recommendations that will result in a bill for the 2018 legislative session to completely overhaul our education funding formulas.
WHAT WE’VE DONE SO FAR
Your 43rd District delegation has been among the strongest advocates for our schools, and many of the funding challenges we face this year are issues we’ve been working to fix over the past several years. In 2015, when Governor Hogan elected not to fund GCEI – supplemental money that accounts for the increased cost of educating students in certain areas of our state, including Baltimore City – Senator Conway introduced and passed legislation to make that funding mandatory. Last year, Delegate McIntosh introduced and passed legislation to hold schools harmless for formula funding decreases from TIF and PILOT developments. The City Delegation, chaired by Delegate Anderson, fought for and secured a one-time infusion of education aid to address last year’s enrollment-related funding reduction, and also pushed the Mayor to increase the City’s contributions to the schools. Delegate Washington, as a member of the Ways & Means Committee and the Education Subcommittee, has been involved in reviewing the state funding formula and making suggestions on how we can make it work better for Baltimore City. She has also done great work around issues stemming from childhood poverty and homelessness, which have major impacts on educational attainment.
WHAT WE’RE DOING NOW
The $42 million reduction in State education aid has been described many places as a cut, but the truth is that the Governor’s budget does fund education as mandated by the aid formula. This is evidence that the current formula doesn’t work and, as described above, efforts are already underway to repair it. In the short term, we will advocate tirelessly to Governor Hogan and our legislative colleagues for every penny we can find to help mitigate the loss of that $42 million. Unfortunately, in Maryland legislators can only cut from the Governor’s budget, they cannot simply add money to the education budget. We will need partnership from the Governor, and we will work closely with his team to identify funding sources.
We will also be pushing our City leadership to find creative ways to increase their contribution. Funding BCPS is a shared responsibility between the City and State, and while the State sends more in aid per-pupil than nearly any other jurisdiction, the local share of per-pupil funding from Baltimore City ranks close to the bottom. While the City faces budget challenges of its own, simply put when the City does more it strengthens our hand as State legislators to advocate for greater State investment.
While the Governor did fund education to the minimum level mandated by law, we do not feel he’s met his obligation to our students. Baltimore, more than any other school system in our state, bears the costs of educating children in poverty. Last year, the General Assembly passed a package of bills meant to support our City and its youth. This year, the Governor chose not to fund most of the programs contained in that package. Among the programs not funded are grants to retain top-quality teachers; funding to expand the hours at neighborhood branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library; money for after school, summer, and in-school enrichment programs; and a program to help low-income students gain the tools they need to succeed in college and beyond. These programs build on and supplement the efforts made by BCPS to ensure every Baltimore child has a chance to succeed and disrupt cycles of poverty, which ultimately makes our schools and our city stronger. In addition to advocating for direct education aid, we will work to restore funding for these programs that support our students and schools.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Your 43rd District team has a platform to advocate strongly for education. Senator Conway chairs the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, Delegate McIntosh chairs the House Appropriations Committee, Delegate Anderson chairs the City House Delegation, and Delegate Washington sits on the committee and subcommittee that sets K-12 education policy. But we need your help and continued involvement to protect our schools.
Please continue to reach out to Governor Hogan, Mayor Pugh, and the Baltimore City Council. Keep in touch with us, too! We want to make sure your voices are heard loud and clear. There are a number of wonderful advocacy groups speaking out for City Schools and we encourage you to join. In particular, Baltimore Education Coalition does an excellent job of keeping folks informed and updated. You can learn more about the Coalition and their efforts here.
The four of us believe deeply in Baltimore City Public Schools and their potential to help lift up our city. We know that good quality schools help keep families in the city that have a choice and create opportunity for families that don’t. We are confident that a longer-term fix for BCPS’ funding issues is on the horizon and that the right leadership is in place to guide BCPS through this trying time.
Thank you for your advocacy and your commitment to Baltimore.