Stakeholder Group Considers the Equity of State’s Education Funding

Should state and county funding be altered in an attempt to improve equity in public education? This is the basic question being considered today by a stakeholder group reviewing two reports from the State’s consultant, Geographic Cost of Education Adjustment for Maryland and Analysis of School Finance Equity and Local Wealth Measures in Maryland.

These reports are an early step in the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in the State of Maryland, a review of education funding required by the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002. Maryland’s Constitution requires the state to provide a “thorough and efficient System of Free Public Schools; and [to] provide by taxation, or otherwise, for their maintenance.” The Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002 increased the State’s education funding following a law suit by the American Civil Liberties Union asserting that the State of Maryland was not fulfilling its constitutional requirement.

The State’s consultant writes in the reports reviewed today,

The adequacy goal behind Maryland’s funding formula suggests that the formula should provide the amount of money necessary for all districts to provide every student an equal opportunity to meet the State’s College and Career Ready Standards.

The Stakeholder Advisory Group is charged with “ensuring the [Adequacy Funding] study is thorough and reflective of the distinctive characteristics of Maryland and its public schools.” The two reports they consider today strike the core of Maryland’s unique education funding formulas.

The Maryland Geographic Cost of Education Index

The Maryland Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) is our State’s main method for accounting for variation in education costs due to geographic location, and through it the State provides additional funding to counties where the costs of providing education are higher. The GCEI came into the limelight last legislative Session when the Governor did not provide it. At the same time, the Governor did not veto a bill that passed the General Assembly mandating the provision of the GCEI in all future years. The consultant’s report, Geographic Cost of Education Adjustment for Maryland recommends three changes to the GCEI calculation, while alluding to the political sensitivity of the topic.

School Finance Equity and Local Wealth Measures

The consultant’s report Analysis of School Finance Equity and Local Wealth Measures in Maryland found that Maryland has made substantial progress towards education equity since the Bridge to Excellence Act.

. . . the Maryland school finance system started from an inequitable base in 2002, in which low wealth districts with high numbers of students with special needs received relatively low levels of funding.  The use of very high weights [in Maryland’s current funding formulas] directed funding to those districts, which led to the system being relatively equitable. . .

The consultants state, however, that different funding methods would be preferable, suggesting several formula changes that would increase state education aid to some jurisdictions and decrease aid to others.

Follow Conduit Street for additional analysis of each of these reports.