Funding Our Public Schools: Team 46 Statement

Tuesday, February 21, 10:24pm

Team 46 Statement on the Baltimore City Public Schools Funding Gap

Over the past few weeks, we have received many heartfelt letters and emails from constituents who are deeply concerned about the funding crisis that Baltimore City Public Schools is facing. We appreciate the time and effort you and others have taken to advocate on behalf of our public schools and our children - it is so important that you make your voices heard. In our shared opinion, there is no more important City issue facing us during the 2017 General Assembly Session than effectively handling this funding challenge.

As you know, Baltimore City Public Schools (“BCPS” or “City Schools”) is facing a budget shortfall of $129 million in FY 2018, next school year. Dr. Santelises has proposed layoffs of up to 1,000 school-based positions as just one means of many to close this funding gap. Individual traditional public schools in some cases are facing shortfalls of up to $1,000,000, while public charters are facing a revenue cut of effectively $1,000 per student. These funding impacts are extremely painful in the abstract and aggregate, but they are even more devastating when one considers the very real and personal impact of a student losing his or her favorite teacher, or a school having to cut a cherished arts enrichment program.  These cuts are clearly not acceptable.

We appreciate the deep frustrations that many families, students, and educators are feeling in our City, and we share them. It is important to remember how this shortfall came into existence in order to fully comprehend potential solutions. When Dr. Santelises began as CEO of BCPS last summer, she commissioned a review of the finances to assess long-term viability. As you can see in detail at this link, the structural deficit that the City Schools are facing is not a product of mismanagement. Rather, the shortfall is result of strategic decisions that the City Schools have made over the last ten years to turnaround the system. For instance, City Schools funds full-day prekindergarten for all qualified four-year-olds, a policy that is ahead of the curve and where City Schools is in the vanguard. Unfortunately, this policy comes with a $34 million price tag that City and State funding does not cover. Similarly, we embarked on a 21st Century School Facilities Initiative that costs Baltimore nearly $35 million a year out of general funds unlike any other jurisdiction in Maryland. These decisions were made for the purpose of turning around a school district, a process that takes time. Equally important, these decisions were made for the purpose of making City Schools more attractive to families, thereby increasing student enrollment. With enrollment increases that we experienced from 2010 through 2015, these policy choices were sustainable.

Over the last two years, however, BCPS has faced declining student enrollment. This decline is attributable to a number of factors, but has an outsized impact on City Schools revenues due to our State’s funding formula for public education (for more information about how the current public school funding formula works, click here, pages 205-219). When student enrollment decreases, not only does a jurisdiction lose money per pupil enrolled, but calculations of wealth equalization fall out of equilibrium and dramatically impact state funding requirements.  These two issues - implementing strategic reforms and declining enrollment - bring us to where we are today.

After several Baltimore Sun articles came out decrying the lack of student funding despite the implementation of casino gambling in Maryland, many people emailed us to ask about the lack of funding. The real problem is not that casino revenue isn’t going to the Education Trust Fund - it is - and it is ensuring that there are funds available to fully fund the formula in existence now. The real problem is that the formula doesn’t work: it does not provide adequate funding for school districts, especially those districts struggling with declining populations (Baltimore is but one of several jurisdictions facing this issue). Although we are exploring mechanisms to use more of the Education Trust Fund to “overfund” the formula to direct money to schools, that is not a long-term solution. The most sustainable solution is to amend the State’s public school education funding formula.

In the long term, our goal is to work with members of the Kirwan Commission (a Commission set up in late 2016 to advise the Legislature and Governor on adequately funding our state public schools) to create and pass a bill creating a new funding formula for our state’s public schools. Over the next year, the Kirwan Commission will be meeting and discussing ideas to ensure our schools are the best in the country, such as overcoming the problems jurisdictions that use tools like TIFs/PILOTs have and how to fully fund full-day Pre-K for four-year-olds. The Commission’s work will result in a bill in the 2018 session that will require strong voices like yours to ensure passage.

In the short term, there is work to do to ensure that we do not fall behind between now and when the new funding formula is implemented (in time for the 2019-2020 school year). Below you will find what we plan to accomplish this Session, what we have done to date, and what needs to happen before the end of session on April 11.

What we plan to accomplish: We are determined to secure as much state funding as possible to help close the gap that exists in our school system’s budget. This year, because of declining enrollment, increased wealth, and loss of a one-year state grant covering last year’s budget gap, the State’s contribution is $42 million less than last year. Our ask and goal is to ensure that the State close that gap and fund BCPS at a level no less than it did last year. We will also plan to work to secure funding over and above that amount, but at the bottom line we understand that we must do all we can to secure a commitment from the Governor to close that $42 million hole. What’s clear is that any effort to close the gap will require a joint effort between our colleagues in the General Assembly and Governor Hogan’s Administration. Additionally, we plan to offer potential short-term revisions to the funding formula that would mitigate the impacts of the formula on districts with declining enrollment for the next two to three years, or until the General Assembly authorizes a new funding formula due to the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations.

What we have done to date: Sen. Ferguson and Del. Lierman are both on the budget committees in their respective houses and have worked diligently with legislative analysts and their Committee chairs to identify places to find funding to fill the gap. Del. Clippinger has authored a letter to the Governor as a City Schools graduate, and Del. Lewis has continued to work with all of us to advocate in our Committees for funding. We have all been in meetings with the Mayor and Dr. Santelises to discuss how we can all work together to help fill the gap.  Senator Ferguson has met with the Governor’s Office for preliminary discussions about the way forward.  Del. Lierman has also discussed the issues with Chairwoman McIntosh and Governor’s aide Keiffer Mitchell. We highlighted these issues and explained where we were and how we got here at our Feb 4 Team 46 Town Hall as well,  and you can find the slideshow we used at that presentation here.

What needs to happen:  Funding BCPS is the shared responsibility of the State and City. Our leverage as state legislators increases directly proportionally to the amount of funding that the City is able to allocate to BCPS. We will stay in close communication with our City Council members and Mayor during this time.

We need you to continue to advocate - to reach out to the Mayor, City Council, and the Governor, and to keep in touch with us - to ensure that the voices of parents and students are heard loud and clear. For more information on how to be involved, we encourage you to connect with and follow updates from the Baltimore Education Coalition. You can stay updated on the Coalition’s efforts by following along on Facebook here.

The four of us believe deeply in Baltimore City Public Schools. Baltimore City’s long-term potential is contingent on the quality of our public schools and our ability to help families to thrive. We believe that the best is yet to come and that we will all weather these difficult times. We are confident that BCPS has the right leadership in place and know that a more permanent fix is on the horizon. We look forward to working with our City partners, with you, and with the wonderful teachers, staff, and students at BCPS to ensure we can give our kids the education they deserve.

Thank you for your commitment to our City.

 

Bill, Luke, Brooke & Robbyn

February 21, 2017