RE-THINKING THE FUTURE OF BALTIMORE STUDENTS
By Deborah Lambert
Despite the predictable calls for more education funding after last month’s upheaval in Baltimore, Gov. Hogan has wasted no time in publicly stating that Baltimore has already mismanaged the abundant assets currently at its disposal.
Last week, the governor’s critics in Baltimore lambasted him for allocating $68 million to fund state employees’ retirement plans instead of education, which would have translated into an extra $11 million for Baltimore city. He responded by accusing officials of “losing” $70 million over the course of a year and cited a Baltimore Sun investigation that showed schools paid out $42 million in generous leave policies.
Today, that $70 million shortfall has escalated into a projected deficit next year of more than $108 million. Gov. Hogan has pointed out that Baltimore city allocates less than 15 percent of its budget to education as opposed to the normal 50 percent designated by most local governments.
Meanwhile, a report by the Independent Institute points out the following:
- Among the top 100 school districts in the country, Baltimore spending per student ranks number two –surpassed only by New York
- George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrok reports that Baltimore spends $17,196 per student – an amount that would pay the tuition at some of the nation’s most exclusive private schools
- Terence Jeffrey reported that the Baltimore school system had over 10,000 teachers and staff on the payroll in the 2012-2013 school year — or about 1 for every 8.3 students
- Despite the 8 to 1 student-to-adult ratio, class sizes are often 40 students per teacher
- And although their huge budget would be the envy of most inner city schools, the Baltimore Sun reports that only $5,190 per student finds its way into the classroom.
Could that be the reason we hear that students are using 20-year-old books? Or that in some city neighborhoods, half the students don’t show up for class on any given day?
Baltimore businessman Jay Steinmetz recently addressed this issue in the Wall Street Journal, saying that “My two children attend a public elementary school where …. bathroom stall doors and toilet-seat lids are missing. The heat goes out in the winter and the air-conditioning goes out in hot weather. It’s hard to explain the importance of developing science and math skills to students wearing winter coats in the classroom.”
In 2013, according to the Department of Education, only 16 percent of eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools scored at or above grade-level proficient in the NAEP reading test. And that same year, only 13 percent of eighth graders in the Baltimore City Public Schools scored at or above grade-level proficient in math.
One option suggested by Terence Jeffrey of CNS News would be to “give every parent or guardian of every student eligible to attend the Baltimore City Public Schools a voucher worth the same amount those schools spend per student. Let them redeem it at any school anywhere, public, private or religious.”
Until now, a major roadblock for such a plan has been the refusal of the entrenched unionized education bureaucracy to open up the system to free market alternatives such as school choice. Moreover, their “stay the course” mindset is routinely reinforced by the White House, which would rather blame Fox News than admit that another mismanaged government bureaucracy is at fault for the fact that generations of children have been trapped into lives of dependency by failing schools.
To his credit, Gov. Hogan recently signed into law the Public Charter School Improvement Act of 2015, which according to the governor’s office, will “alter state law regarding the establishment and operation of public charter schools. The bill provides greater flexibility in operations to eligible public charter schools that have existed for at least five years and meet certain conditions. The role of the Maryland State Board of Education as a chartering authority is eliminated and its authority in appeals is clarified.”