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The Structural Problem of Baltimore County’s Public School Funding

By Staff Writer Kevin Wu ‘20

· Kevin Wu

Baltimore County’s Public School funding continues to build a deficit. With this year’s budget deadline looming, the county currently faces a budget deficit of about $130 million. To address the problem, the school board is looking at potential cuts that could slash thousands of teacher jobs and do away with many school programs, and some class sizes are projected to balloon to more than forty students. However, despite the severity of these cuts, the county and state have been dealing with structural issues of the school system with inefficient, short-term Band-Aid solutions that only push the problem back for future generations to deal with.

Baltimore County has one of the most inefficient school systems in the country. It spends nearly 16,000 dollars a year per pupil, which is ranked fourth in the nation, but this spending yields some of the worst results nationwide. According to Baltimore City Schools data, eighty-six percent of tested third graders cannot read or write at grade level, and ninety-three percent of middle school students are not proficient in math. Frederick Douglass High School, according to district data, has zero students proficient in English and Math state testing, yet over half of their students graduate. That is not to say that money is simply wasted on education, rather it is being used in education the wrong way and does not address larger realities of poverty that affect many Baltimore County students, and inhibit their education.

Lawmakers have only submitted proposals that deal with this issue by increased deficit spending. However, this is only a short-term solution that exacerbates the issue in the long run. Dumping extra money into the system does nothing to properly address the needs of students who live in poverty. State lawmakers pledged to allot $180 million over the next three years, which would cut the deficit to $70 million a year. Furthermore, some lawmakers have pointed to the county’s police budget as especially concerning because it eclipses the education budget by $10 million a year. They have suggested shifting money over to education because that should be valued more. Both of these are legitimate solutions, but they lack the long term view in dealing with the huge inefficiencies within the county’s school system.

The key to solving this problem lies in dealing with the structural issues within the education system. Later this year, the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education will convene and give a recommendation to the state legislature on how to more efficiently budget its education system. Of course, this is just a start, but more efforts like this are needed to attack the source of this massive budget deficit. Through these commissions, the state can design new formulas that better serve the needs of the children of Baltimore, and specifically those who live in extreme poverty. It is also important to keep faith in the system despite looming budget cuts. Parents should remain optimistic as it certainly takes time to unravel years of damage done by short-term fixes from the legislature.

Money spent does not necessarily equal better student results and outcomes. Baltimore County stands out as an excellent example of this, given the data I mentioned earlier. The truth is that school is a big part of children’s lives, but it is not everything, and anything that could have an effect on the child’s well being will affect his/her performance at school. One example of a more comprehensive initiative has been implemented in Greene County, North Carolina. In Greene County, where poverty rates are high, schools have been focusing on creating a stronger bond between home and school environments. This has included hiring more social workers and shifting the curriculum from specific teaching to building confidence and perseverance in children. One other change in Greene County is a heavy shift toward reading, which builds self-sufficient learning for students. If the education system does not take these things into account, then the budgeting process, no matter how much money is involved, will ultimately fail and much-needed government funding will be wasted.

Image from Wikimedia.

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