It appears there are those with political agendas contrary to Baltimore City’s best interests who have seized upon an out of context report in the national media declaring that Baltimore City Public Schools enjoys the 3rd highest per student spending allocation in the United States, and have scapegoated this fallacy to argue against the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future proposed by the Kirwan Commission and ratified by the Maryland General Assembly, overriding a veto by Governor Hogan.
The first problem with this designation for Baltimore is the caveat that ranks its budget total “among the 100 largest school systems.” What is the significance of the size of this district? It appears that identifying the 100 largest districts, which by definition would be urban, are buzzwords to codify these school districts, racially and culturally, as non-white.
A 2010 article published in the online digest of the American Institutes for Research entitled “Report Finds Majority of Students in the 100 Largest U.S. School Districts Are Hispanic or Black” makes this clear. The report concluded that among these “districts in the United States 63 percent were Hispanic or Black. Blacks were 26 percent, compared to 17 percent of students in all school districts, and the percentage of students who were Hispanic was 37 percent, compared to 22 percent of students in all school districts.”
These criticisms by local opponents of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future whose argument follows that Baltimore students are already ‘over-funded’ based on this reporting are definitely suspect in their motives. The ‘size’ alone of a school district is arbitrary. Dollars have equal value regardless of whose pocket they are in. Per-student-spending for education is just that, in any school district, anywhere in the country.
The issue in Baltimore City is how and what those dollars are spent for. Unlike Baltimore, where the average school is more than 40 years old, without modern climate control, where the poverty rate is nearly 22 percent, requiring the District to expend resources and personnel to feed 80,000 students twice per day, where the school district has been systemically underfunded for more than a half century, more-stable districts expend more of the revenue budgeted for ‘education’ directly for instruction.
A case in point is Somerset County in southern Maryland. Although their population is only 1/20th of Baltimore’s at roughly 26,000 residents, and African Americans comprise 41 percent of the population compared to Baltimore’s 63 percent, the poverty rates are nearly identical at 21.7 percent and 21.8 percent, respectively, and Baltimore has more average household income, $51,000 versus $42,000 annually.
However, per student spending for education in Somerset County is calculated to be $17,350 a year according to an article by U.S. News & World Report; $1166 more per student than Baltimore City. To add bang to that buck, its 3000 students enjoy a student-teacher ratio of 12:1 in better-maintained schools (there are no published reports of school buildings ever being closed due to faulty or non-existent HVAC systems) that average 30 years old.
Baltimore City’s 80,000 students have higher average class sizes at a 16:1 ratio.
To gain a deeper appreciation of the strain on Baltimore Public Schools resources, consider these findings from a recent scholastic white paper on the topic of the city’s comparative educational equity. According to a 2019 study by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Applied Public Research, entitled BALTIMORE CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS INFRASTRUCTURE DASHBOARD, “Problems with heat and cooling accounted for lost school time of more than 1.2 million hours, equivalent to more than 179,000 days, over the last five years, representing about 80 percent of the time [students] missed.
These problems included no heat on frigid days and no air conditioning on sweltering days.” Hopkins further reported in its study: “Because 80 percent of students in Baltimore City Public Schools are black, the vast majority of children missing school are black. We found that about five in every six hours (84 percent) of lost school time due to infrastructure needs were experienced by black children. In these schools, eight of every nine hours (89 percent) of lost school time were experienced by black students. Nearly 90 percent of this lost time occurred in the last two years…”
Moreover, U.S. News & World Report also disclosed that Maryland’s highest per pupil educational expenditure is shouldered by the Worcester County School District at $17,807, more than $1600 per student annually above what Baltimore’s students are supposedly costing. Two other jurisdictions in Maryland, Howard County and Montgomery County are in a virtual dead heat with Baltimore’s per student spending at $15,995 and $16,005 per student per year, respectively.
So, what is Governor Larry Hogan fighting about? Regarding the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, to borrow a Martin Luther King Jr metaphor: we’ve come to Annapolis to cash a check that until now has been marked insufficient funds.
Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history. Check out his meme gallery at: https://www.humortimes.com/caroons/dc