ANNAPOLIS — A financial report shows Maryland received a high mark in terms of funding levels for education, but rated poorly to distribute money to some of its school systems.
Danielle Farrie, research director for the Education Law Center in Newark, New Jersey, used the latest economic data from 2016 to show Maryland’s poorer school districts received $800 fewer than wealthier districts.
Farrie also said the assessment that Maryland schools are underfunded by at least $3 billion annually could be more.
“Although the funding levels are high, they are not equitably distributed. That means the poorest districts are getting less funding,” she said Thursday, Aug. 1, adding the money assessed in the report focuses on state and local funding combined and not including federal dollars.
Farrie presented a report, “School Funding Fairness – How Maryland Compares,” to the 13-member Blueprint for Maryland’s Future work group, which seeks ways to establish funding formulas between state and local school systems.
According to a financial chart from the state’s Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis, state aid per pupil increased from $2,874 in fiscal year 2002 to $6,535 fiscal year 2019. In terms of local appropriations during the same time frame, the figure increased from $3,851 to $6,506.
The group, led by former University of System Maryland chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, proposes to come up with recommendations by the fall. Then the 25-member commission plans to review and vote on those ideas and any other proposals before the General Assembly convenes in January.
The legislature already approved an additional $255 million in the budget toward the Kirwan recommendations.
The measure also allocates $725 million through 2022 with an additional $130 million if lawmakers can pass legislation next year on how to pay for additional programming.
During Farrie’s presentation, Prince George’s County school board Chairman Alvin Thornton, who led the effort more than 20 years ago to create a funding formula to bridge education equities, asked if the report includes school capacity.
No, Farrie said. “We just looked at the revenue coming in.”
In terms of ranking against other states, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and Delaware all received an “A” for funding levels. Maryland and New Hampshire garnered a “B” on the report. However, Maryland scored a “D” along with Virginia for distribution of money.
The report determined school refinance reforms must be: student-centered based on enrollment and needs; funding levels combined with “sound research” to achieve a state’s academic standards; and the share of local and state dollars.
Former state Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr. of Montgomery County said the current data for Maryland shows Somerset County with only 10 schools received $17,736 in state aid and neighboring Talbot County received $13,300.
“The students in the poorest jurisdiction are receiving more than the highest jurisdictions. It makes some of your regression analysts a little more difficult,” said Madaleno, who now works as the county’s budget director. “It’s hard to take Maryland into your context … when there are so many things going on. The numbers don’t reflect Maryland’s reality.”
Farrie admitted Maryland’s assessment remains more complicated because the state doesn’t have as many school systems compared to other states.
For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Education notes the state has 500 school districts that range in student population from 200 to 140,000.
There are 585 school districts in New Jersey, according to the state’s Department of Education.
Both states manage schools from an area or regional structure and not a countywide system.
“The way our report is constructed is to reflect a national picture, but it is also to discern overall patterns,” Farrie said. “It’s kind of all over the map.”