By Sujith Cherukmilli // March 3, 2021
For decades, states’ inequitable education funding and resource allocation policies have hindered students of color and students from low-income families from accessing equal opportunities inside and outside the classroom and achieving their full potential. Beyond adequacy studies, court-ordered action plans, and incremental funding increases, few states in the South have taken concrete legislative steps to close funding gaps between different groups of students and extend the promise of a high-quality public education to every student. A recent vote in the Maryland General Assembly will change this reality for public school students and systems in that state.
The $3.2 billion Blueprint for Maryland’s Future school funding overhaul became law on February 12. It is now time for the rest of the South to follow in Maryland’s footsteps and dedicate a similar amount of time, resources and energy toward meeting their constitutional duty to maintain a free, accessible and high-quality system of K-12 schools.
The Blueprint promises a better future for Maryland’s most vulnerable students
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is a product of the five-year-long Kirwan Commission, formed in 2016 to make recommendations rooted in best practices to improve opportunities within Maryland’s public education system. By 2030, it will be fully implemented, so that state and local governments can institute improvements across the P-20 pipeline that will advance learning opportunities and provide higher quality teachers for thousands of students. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future prioritizes the following issue areas:
- Pre-K access – The law would, by 2030, leverage public-private partnerships in the state to improve Pre-K access in Maryland through a $529 million investment.
- Teacher recruitment and retention – Recognizing the need for a more diverse and robust teacher pipeline in Maryland, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will invest nearly $80 million annually in a “Teacher Career Ladder” program by 2030.
- Funding for vulnerable students – The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future will invest nearly an additional $1 billion annually by 2030 in English learners, students living in poverty, and students with special needs.
- Foundation Program funding – This is the largest single item in the Blueprint and will invest an additional $828 million annually in increasing the state’s base per-pupil funding amount by 2030. This is an average of over $900 per K-12 public school student in Maryland.
Particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, improving Maryland’s funding formula offers the state an opportunity to elevate equity by supporting the recovery of lost learning time, expanding access to wraparound services and accelerating college and career readiness programs. As a disproportionate number of students of color and students from low-income families in the state grapple with the academic and non-academic challenges wrought by the digital divide, lost learning time, food insecurity, and community-wide trauma, public schools carry a renewed importance as not just learning hubs, but centers for nurturing and emotional development. Public schools also have a responsibility to train the next generation of workers and skilled professionals. The focus on career and technical education (CTE) in the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future equips schools with the funding and tools needed to cultivate a diverse, educated and prepared workforce.
The Blueprint creates a pathway for other southern states to implement similar reforms
Passage of this ambitious, comprehensive, and long-overdue proposal bodes well for other states in the South – if they are willing to engage in the challenging and fruitful work of rewriting their public education funding formulas. A recent analysis of state education funding models from the Education Law Center reveals that among the southern states, only Delaware and Maryland spend more per student than the national average of $14,548. These figures are emblematic of underlying inequities that have persisted for generations.
In Georgia, for example, the Quality Basic Education K-12 funding formula has been in use since 1985, despite a dramatic increase in the number of English learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities in the last 36 years. In Texas, 4.3 million workers are at risk of losing their jobs or being underemployed partially due to higher unemployment potential stemming from inadequate career and technical education opportunities. Across the South, the number of workers at risk of underemployment is over 18 million.
In North Carolina, the legal consent order and a collaborative report stemming from the 27-year-long Leandro case charges the state with revising its funding formula to provide a “sound basic education” for all students. Despite the North Carolina Supreme Court’s 1997 ruling in the case, the state legislature continues to drag its feet on implementing policies and practices that would improve educational opportunities for the state’s most vulnerable students. In Arkansas, consultants and researchers from Augenblick, Palaich and Associates and WestEd conducted a funding adequacy study over the last two years and issued a report with recommendations including addressing the discrepancies in teacher quality between schools and revising various elements of the state’s resource and funding allocation matrix.
Many southern states have recommendations and action steps in place to implement reforms similar to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. Now, legislatures and state leaders must carry the baton forward and do the difficult, yet necessary, work of building a public education system that works for each and every student.
Sujith Cherukumilli is SEF’s Government Affairs and Advocacy Analyst.