O’Malley Won’t Spend as Much on Education

Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) faced with a $1.7 billion budget deficit next year (and probably more) has indicated that he will ignore the mandates of the Thorton plan (an education spending boodoggle passed in the final months of former Governor Parris Glendenning’s final year in office) and only increase education spending by $119 million next year, rather than the full $288 million that is required by the Thorton plan.

As much as I don’t like to see cuts in education spending, this is a smart move by the O’Malley Administration. while O’Malley has spent the past two weeks or so touting his tax plan (which is over onerous on the very people O’Malley seeks to “protect”), he is not going to close the deficit through taxes only. Thorton plan spending had to be slashed, but it cannot be the only aspect to take a budgetary hit. There are lots of other services and budget items that have to be cut as well.

Not surprisingly, there are people who are claiming that reducing the size of the Thorton funds will negatively impact student performance. Leading that charge is Alvin Thorton himself, the man who made the recommendations that led to the plan that bears his name.

Thornton said he is “very sensitive” to the fiscal challenges faced by the governor and legislative leaders. But he said less money will possibly lead to a drop in student performance.

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“It was never just money pulled out of the sky,” he said. “It was connected to performance that could be purchased with the money.”

Of course, Thorton’s comments are based on the assumption that money can buy better performance, an assertion that has not been proven.

While Maryland’s education budget has ballooned over the past five years, student performance, while increasingly slightly over time, has not grown at anything approaching the same rate as education spending. Indeed, there is little correlation between the spending on education and student performance. In locales where education spending is highest in the state, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Baltimore City, performance can best be described as mixed. Baltimore City per pupil expenditures rank it near the top of all localities, but its school performance ranks at the bottom.

Education spending in Maryland, like most states is an ever growing part of the budget pie, but we have long passed the point of diminishing returns. Instead of focusing on more money, we should be looking for ways to spend that money better. Perhaps the fiscal crunch in Maryland will force schools to think more creatively about its spending habits.

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