Baltimore Public School Management Failures Shortchange Students

By Mark Uncapher

The Baltimore Schools Public School system was forced to close during the first days of this month because more than 60 of its buildings lacked heat.  The knee-jerk response of some partisans was to blame the Baltimore system’s woes on a “lack of funding.”

For example, the Maryland Democratic Party was quick to blame Governor Hogan for what they called his “callous disregard for the safety of Baltimore students.”  However, their shrill, over-the-top rhetoric withers under any form of scrutiny.

Democratic State Comptroller Peter Franchot noted that “Since I became Comptroller, I've voted to approve over $538 million for school capital funding for Baltimore City. It's infuriating that internal front office issues resulted in millions of HVAC project funds being reverted back to the state.”

Since 2009, the Baltimore public schools have received over $66 million in state funding for repairs that was returned before being used because of their procurement and other management failures. This money works out to just about $1 million for each building lacking heat. 

Meanwhile, public schools in Maryland averaged about $15,268 in total funding for each pupil in fiscal 2017, drawn from federal, state and local sources.  On average, 47% of public school funding came from local sources and 48% came from the state. The federal government provided the remaining 4.5%.  Worcester County had the highest per pupil revenues at $17,971, while Baltimore City had the second highest at $16,942. (Montgomery County was in fourth place with $16,344.)

The key difference is the source of the money. Baltimore City paid for only 20% of its own school costs, while Worcester County covered 72% of its budget. 

Tragically, the outside money sent to the Baltimore public schools has not just failed to provide heated schools.  A recent Project Baltimore investigation found that five Baltimore City high schools and one middle school did not have a single student proficient in the state tested subjects of math and English. [1]

Every decade or so, our Maryland government launches a “blue-ribbon” commission to address education funding.  Sixteen years ago, the Thornton Commission recommendations produced significantly more money for Baltimore City.  The Kirwan Commission is currently preparing to make “recommendations for legislative and policy initiatives to increase the availability of innovative educational opportunities, and make adequate and equitable the funding for State public education.”

Going forward, instead of a reflexive reaction that all of Baltimore’s school failures are simply the result of a lack of funds, Baltimore leaders – and those throughout Maryland also – must address that system’s manifest serious management failures.  Clearly, money alone has not been enough to keep school buildings heated.  Also, money alone will not turn educational failures around.

Montgomery County Republican Party