Maryland Education Spending by the Numbers

In Waiting for Superman, the documentary film on the state of America’s public education system, we learn that over the last 50 years spending on education has increased exponentially, while over the same period educational outcomes remained flat.

National data clearly shows that increased education spending in does not equal increased educational achievement out.

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How does this general fact play out in Maryland? Let’s look at the data.

According to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics and the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, Maryland (state and counties) increased education spending by $4.2 billion (49%) since 2002 (latest data available up to fiscal year 2009). The state alone has increased education spending by $2.8 billion (97%) between 2002-2011.

While enrollment increased by 8,500 students over the last two years, from 2002-2009 enrollment in Maryland public schools decreased by two percent or nearly 17,000 students.

The massive increase in Maryland’s education spending is due to the Bridge to Excellence or Thornton mandates enacted by the General Assembly in 2002. Education spending is the only program mandated by the Maryland constitution. Article VIII section 1 requires that the legislature “by Law establish throughout the State a thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and shall provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.”

For years the state was subject to lawsuits from Baltimore city over inadequate education funding to meet the constitutional requirement. In 1999 the legislature created the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence more commonly known as the Thornton Commission because of the commission’s chair Alvin Thornton, chair of Howard University’s political science department. The Thornton commission recommended a comprehensive $1.3 billion increase in state aid to local schools systems over the next six years. Out of Thornton came the Bridge to Excellence law, which implemented the Thornton spending mandates—without identifying a funding source to pay for them.

As mentioned earlier the state has increased education spending by more $2 billion and the counties over $1.3 billion. Total state and county per pupil expenditures is nearly $15,000

Given that enormous amount of spending input, and the public school system’s three-year perch atop Education Week’s rankings, conventional wisdom tells us we should see blockbuster student output.

However, a look at the data shows Maryland taxpayers are not getting the education bang they should be expect given for the massive amount of bucks they put in to the state’s education system.

A Bridge to “Basic”

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) commonly known as the “Nation’s Report Card” publishes state snap shots for subject scores for 4th and 8th grade students. Examining the average NAEP math and reading scores for Maryland’s 4th and 8th graders between 2003-2011 reveals that in Maryland’s education system there are serious disparities between Whites and minorities and between students eligible for the National School Lunch Program and those not eligible.

The average scale score for the NAEP 4th grade math assessment improved by six percent between 2003-2011, and the average 4th grade reading score rose five percent. The average math assessment score for Maryland eighth graders increased by nearly four percent, and by slightly over three percent on the reading assessment.

At first blush, this may seem like glowing progress. However, once you take into account the meaning of the scale scores as identified by the NAEP item maps (pp. 29 & 53 on 2011 NAEP Mathematics Report Card, and pp. 29 & 58 on 2011 NAEP Reading Report Card) the percentages don’t look so impressive. For example, the six percent increase in average 4th grade math scores is still only in the Basic range two points below the cut score for the Proficient. While 4th graders average reading scores improved, the scale scores were still in the middle of the Basic range seven points below Proficient.

The results are similar for average 8th grade math scores. Although the average scores increased nearly 4 percent from 2003-2011, the average scale score of 288 remained unchanged from 2009 and placed in the Basic range, 11 points below the cut score for Proficient. Average 8th grade reading scores increased to 271 in 2011, up nine points from 2003. However, that scale score is still in the middle of the Basic range, 10 points below the cut score for Proficient.

For $4.2 billion spent, taxpayers received a return on investment of an average of 12-point increase across average scores for 4th and 8th grade reading and math. According to the 2011 NAEP state snap shot for 8th grade math, more than a quarter of Maryland’s 8th graders are below Basic, 34 percent are at Basic and only 29 percent are proficient.

Part II will show that Maryland’s schools’ performance becomes even less impressive—given the massive amount of spending—when the data are broken down by race and income.

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