Maintenance of Banality
With all the predictability of the sun rising in the east and setting in the west, Maryland’s teacher’s unions are caterwauling about the seven counties that are not meeting their maintenance of effort funding requirements under the state’s Thornton education funding mandates.
Education advocates and state leaders say that school funding cuts by nearly one-third of the state’s 24 local jurisdictions will undermine progress at public schools that have been repeatedly ranked as the nation’s best. Class sizes are rising, teachers are not getting the support they need, and school buildings are not being well maintained, said interim state school Superintendent Bernard Sadusky.
“Parents should be outraged. The direct impact that this should have on children is devastating,” said Bob Rankin, a lobbyist for the Maryland State Education Association, a teachers union.
County governments, which have suffered under difficult economic times, are interpreting the law that requires them to maintain the same per-pupil spending from year to year differently. Local officials contend that changes made during the final days of last year’s General Assembly session, and a state school board legal opinion issued in May, allow them to dip far below funding levels required…
But General Assembly leaders, angered by the stance of some county governments, are seeking to change the law this session. “The counties aren’t doing their fair share,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., a Prince George’s County Democrat.
Miller said he intends to make sure the law mandates that local governments can’t decrease school funding. He said that he and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, an Anne Arundel County Democrat, both have “strong” opinions about the need for counties to maintain funding…
“The question is what value are you going to place on education,” Sadusky said. In some counties, he said, governments have reduced some tax rates during good economic times as state education funding increased. Now, he said, the question is whether those leaders will raise taxes to fully fund schools.
Will these cuts be “devastating” as Mr. Rankin says? No. A look at the 2011 Maryland School Assessment data suggests he is merely repeating the old banality that more money in equals better results out.
The charts below show that there is no huge difference in Reading, Math and Science achievement—as measured by the MSAs—between the seven counties not meeting MOE requirements and the other 17 school systems.
Queen Anne’s, my home county, is spending $600 less per-pupil, yet MSA data shows its school system produces a higher percentage of proficient, and advanced students in reading, math and science.
The liberal Center for American Progress ranked Queen Anne’s schools high on their Return on Investment rankings noting:
To understand better how our Basic ROI Index works in practice, consider Maryland. We first ranked the state’s 24 districts along our achievement index. That put districts with relatively high achievement, such as Queen Anne’s County Public Schools, in the top achievement tier. (Queen Anne’s County has an achievement index of 87 and ranks sixth in the state on that measure). Districts with relatively low achievement, such as Dorchester County Public Schools, went into the bottom achievement tier. (Dorchester County has an achievement index of 72 and ranks third from the bottom on this measure.)
Then we looked at each district’s adjusted spending. Dorchester County had high adjusted spending, and so it went into the highest adjusted spending tier. (Dorchester’s adjusted per-student spending is $10,462 and ranks 17th out of 24 districts on this measure.) Queen Anne’s County had relatively low adjusted spending, and so it went into the lowest adjusted spending tier. (Queen Anne’s adjusted per-student spending is $8,648 and ranks seventh in the state on this measure…)
Queen Anne’s County had high achievement and low adjusted spending, and so it received a green rating. Dorchester had low achievement and high adjusted spending, and so it received a red rating.
Remember, Queen Anne’s already raised property and income taxes last year to cover a FY 2012 budget deficit.
So why shouldn’t counties facing severe budget constraints be allowed to spend less on education—their largest budget line item—especially if they’re producing good results?