Know Your ABCs: A Comprehensive Guide to Maryland K-12 Education Jargon

Have you ever been lost in a maze of terms and acronyms frequently used in Maryland public education? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. 

In this blog article, we’ll unravel the mystery behind the most frequently used terms and acronyms, helping you make the grade.

General education and policy terms

  • Blueprint for Maryland’s Future (“The Blueprint”): Known as Maryland’s landmark education reform law, The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 2021 to transform public education in the state into a world-class education system. The Blueprint will increase education funding by $3.8 billion each year over the next 10 years, enrich student experiences and accelerate student outcomes, as well as improve the quality of education for all children in Maryland, especially those who have been historically underserved.
  • Career and Technical Education (CTE): Maryland Career and Technically Education (CTE) programs of study are statewide programs designed to prepare students for the global economy and workforce needs. All CTE programs are aligned to nationally or state-recognized industry and academic standards. CTE programs are organized by career clusters, which are groupings of occupations and industries based on shared features or “core functions,” CTE programs are based on academic and technical skill standards to ensure student preparation for both college and careers. CTE programs include work-based learning opportunities (e.g., internships, apprenticeships, clinical experience or industry mentored projects). Students also have the option to earn college credit and/or industry-recognized credentials such as certifications and licenses.
  • Charter school: A charter school is a public school that operates as a school of choice. Charter schools commit to obtaining specific educational objectives in return for a charter to operate a school. Charter schools are exempt from significant state or local regulations related to operation and management but otherwise adhere to regulations of public schools — for example, charter schools cannot charge tuition or be affiliated with a religious institution. In other words, charter schools are publicly accountable — they rely on families choosing to enroll their children, and they must have a written performance contract with the authorized public chartering agency. Charter schools are also autonomous — they have more flexibility in the operations and management of the school than traditional public schools.
  • Chronic absenteeism: A student is considered “chronically absent” if they miss at least 15 days of school in one school year. Chronic absenteeism is associated with a greater risk of poor educational outcomes and directly impacts Maryland’s school funding formulas.
  • College and Career Readiness: Prioritized in The Blueprint as Pillar 3. The College and Career Readiness Pillar sets a new College and Career Readiness (CCR) standard that prepares graduates for success in college and the workforce by ensuring they have the knowledge and skills to complete entry-level credit-bearing college courses and work in high-wage and high-demand industries. The Blueprint aims to have all students meet the CCR standard by the end of their 10th grade year, develops CCR-Support pathways to support students in meeting the standard, enables students to enter a Post-CCR pathway that builds on the student’s strengths, develops a Career and Technical Education (CTE) system that is aligned with industry’s needs, and ensures that prekindergarten through 12th grade curriculum, standards, and assessments are all aligned with the new CCR standard.
  • Compensatory Education: Added school State and local funding for low-income students, previously measured by receiving free or reduced-price meals, and now by Medicaid and CHIP enrollment.
  • Community school: Community schools serve as hubs that bring families, communities, and partners together to remove barriers to learning. Using an asset-based approach, community schools strive to strengthen connections to generate improved student outcomes. Community schools work in collaboration with community partners, local governments, and other stakeholders to identify and address structural and institutional barriers to achievement. Leveraging the power of the collective allows community schools to provide resources to students and families where they need it the most—neighborhoods that have been historically underfunded and underserved. Community schools provide a wide array of wraparound services that enhance student’s ability to be successful. The Community School model is prioritized in the Blueprint.
  • Dual enrollment: Dual enrollment programs, sometimes called early college access, provide an important opportunity for high school students to try college courses while still in the familiar high school environment. Tuition is discounted and sometimes free, with the Blueprint elevating free programs for Maryland high school students. Courses can be either academic or career/technical (CTE). Under the State Department of Education’s Blueprint Strategic Plan, dual enrollment students can receive an associate degree and/or at least 60 credits toward a bachelor’s degree.
  • English Learners/ Title III (ELs): English learners are students whose primary home language is one other than English. These students when registering for Maryland schools will often complete a Home Language Survey (HLS) to determine if the student is eligible for English Language Development (ELD) Services known as English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), or English as Second Language (ESL). There were more than 105,000 English learners enrolled in Maryland public schools in the 2022-2023 school year. The Blueprint seeks to more greatly support ELs in the public school system.
  • EXCELS: Maryland EXCELS is a quality and standards program for childcare. Maryland EXCELS uses nationally recognized quality standards and best practices to promote quality program improvement in Maryland’s Child Care Centers, School-Age Child Care Programs, Family Child Care Homes, and Public Prekindergartens. According to MSDE, Maryland EXCELS helps families choose quality child care and early education programs that meet their needs. By searching for a Maryland EXCELS quality-rated program, families are choosing from programs that emphasize achieving high standards and implementing practices that support children’s development and learning.
  • Free and Reduced Meals (“FARMs”): A federal program adopted by Maryland to provide low-income students with free and reduced school meals. Eligibility is typically determined based on household size and income. FARMs eligibility is also sometimes used to determine eligibility for other social services and for certain school funding programs. Previously, it was the largest qualifier for Maryland’s concentrations of poverty and compensatory education school funding programs. Medicaid and CHIP enrollment is now being used, and considered more accurate.
  • Full-Time Equivalent (FTE): Related to student enrollment and the number of students considered to be present on a “full-time” basis. Maryland conducts an annual enrollment or “head count” of all students enrolled at a full-time equivalent (FTE) in the state’s public schools on the same day every year — Sept 30. That headcount is important not only to inform statewide education policies and data but also for counties as a major funder of our public schools.
  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP): A written description of the special education and related services for a student with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised by the student’s IEP team.
  • Kirwan Commission: Formally called the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, the “Kirwan Commission” was the precursor to the Blueprint law, lovingly nicknamed as such for Chairman Dr. William “Brit” Kirwan. The Commission evaluated public education in the state and proposed a set of reforming recommendations that ultimately evolved into the Blueprint.
  • Knott Commission: In 2016, the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House appointed the 21st Century School Facilities Commission. The Commission was charged with reviewing all aspects of the school facilities process and ensuring that the State is positioned to build modern schools for the 21st century. Members included legislators, state and local officials, teachers, school board representatives, and members representing the private sector, including the Chair, Martin G. Knott, Jr. The commission became informally known as the Knott Commission. The Knott Commission worked diligently for two years, meeting 17 times and publishing their final report.
  • Local Education Agency (LEA): A technical term for “school district” or “school system.” Each school system in Maryland is an individual LEA. Together, there are 24 LEAs throughout the state.
  • Nationally Board Certified Teacher (NBCT): National Board Certification is the most respected professional certification available in education and provides numerous benefits to teachers, students, and schools. It was designed to develop, retain, and recognize accomplished teachers and to generate ongoing improvement in schools nationwide.
  • Thornton Plan: 2002-2008 was the phase-in of the Thornton Plan, a product of the Thorton Commission, whose main goal was to align Maryland’s performance expectations with adequate funding. The Thorton Plan deliberately increased school funding, nominally to bring the state contribution to match that of the counties.
  • “Universal pre-K”: Universal pre-K, also known as “preschool access for all,” is a policy framework that ensures any family who wants to enroll their preschool-aged child in a publicly-funded, pre-kindergarten care and education program has the opportunity to make that choice. The Blueprint’s Pillar 1 expands full-day Pre-K access so that all children are ready to learn and be successful when they enter kindergarten. The Blueprint also increases the number of Judy Centers and Patty Centers and increases the number of educators in early childhood as well as high-quality early care and learning experiences.

School construction and facility management terms

  • Aging Schools Program (ASP): The Aging Schools Program is established in Education Article §5-324 and is intended to fund projects in aging facilities. The ASP provides State funds to all school systems in the State of Maryland to address the needs of their aging school buildings. These funds may be utilized for capital improvement projects in existing public school buildings and sites serving students. Each County’s allocation is statutorily defined.
  • Built to Learn Act (“Built to Learn”): The Built to Learn Act of 2020 allows the Maryland Stadium Authority (MSA) to issue up to $2.2 billion in revenue bonds (depending on amount of funding available to support debt service) to fund school construction projects. MSA is also required to manage school construction projects, which must be approved for funding and scope by the Interagency Commission on School Construction as described in the statutorily required memorandum of understanding between MSA and the IAC.  Additionally, the Built to Learn Act:
    • Creates the Public School Facilities Priority Fund, which uses the results of the Statewide Facilities Assessment required by Education Article § 5-310 to prioritize funding to schools with the highest needs;
    • Makes design and other project expenses eligible for State participation; Mandates an increase to Enrollment Growth and Relocatable Classroom (EGRC) funding beginning in FY 2026; and
    • Extends the Healthy School Facility Fund.
  • Capital Improvement Program (CIP): The Capital Improvement Program (CIP) is the State’s largest school construction grant program, averaging at least $280 million per year in recent years. CIP funding can be used for major new, renewal, or replacement projects as well as for addition projects or capital maintenance projects (systemic renovations).
  • Enrollment Growth and Relocatable Classroom (EGRC) Grant Program: Established by legislation in calendar year 2015, the Enrollment Growth and Relocatable Classroom grant program’s funds are administered by the IAC to provide an additional grant for the CIP for local school systems that are experiencing significant enrollment growth or use a significant number of Relocatable classrooms. The Built to Learn Act mandates an increase to EGRC funding beginning in FY 2026.
  • Facility Condition Index (FCI): Index describing the physical condition of public school facilities in Maryland, based on the Statewide Facilities Assessment results.
  • Healthy School Facility Fund: The purpose of the Healthy School Facility Fund is to provide grants to public primary and secondary schools for capital projects that will improve the health of school facilities. This includes projects that will improve the conditions related to air conditioning, heating, indoor air quality, mold remediation, temperature regulation, and plumbing—including the presence of lead in drinking water outlets, roofs, and windows. Grants are prioritized for projects that correct issues posing an immediate life, safety, or health threat to occupants of a facility. Established as a new program by legislation in the calendar year 2018 and modified in 2021, the Education Article §5-322, Annotated Code of Maryland, requires the IAC to administer the HSFF, approve expenditures, and develop administrative procedures for the grant program. The Governor is required to provide in his budget an annual allocation of $30 million for the program in Fiscal Years 2020 through 2022, and at least $40 million in Fiscal Years 2023 and 2024.
  • Local Revolving Loan Fund: The Local Revolving Loan Fund allows low-debt capacity counties to forward fund state and local funding for capital school projects.
  • Maintenance Effectiveness Assessments (MEAs): Annually, the IAC conducts a Maintenance of Effectiveness Assessment to review the effectiveness of maintenance efforts in Maryland schools to help prolong the lifespan of school facilities. The MEA rates schools into five standard ratings: “Superior,” “Good,” “Adequate,” “Not Adequate,” and “Poor.”
  • Net zero energy project: A project is considered “net zero energy” when the total amount of energy used is equal to or less than the amount of renewable energy created.
  • Public School Facilities Priority Fund: This program, authorized in 2021 by the Built to Learn Act, provides State funds to address the facility needs of the highest priority schools identified by the statewide facilities assessment completed by IAC. The highest priority is given to schools with severe facility issues that require the school to be closed.
  • Statewide Facilities Assessment: The purpose of the Statewide Facilities Assessment (SFA) is to assess the physical condition and educational sufficiency of school facilities in Maryland to give the State the ability to identify the facilities with the highest needs and to provide critical information to both State and local decision makers so they are better equipped to focus capital dollars on those facilities. The baseline SFA, which assessed all public school facilities in the state, was completed in July of 2021, and the IAC will re-assess each school at least every four years to ensure the data is up to date, as mandated by law. The SFA results in Facility Condition Index (FCI), which describes the physical condition of public school facilities in Maryland.
  • Total Cost of Ownership (TCO): “Total cost of ownership” is an estimate of the total direct and indirect costs of school construction projects.
  • Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities: During the 2021 legislative session, SB 551 passed, which among other things, created the Workgroup on the Assessment and Funding of School Facilities, tasked with evaluating multiple components of school construction projects and conditions by the end of this year. In December 2021, the Workgroup recommended a series of policy and funding changes to Maryland’s school construction processes.

School funding terms

  • Concentration of Poverty Grants (CPG): Concentration of Poverty grants are State funds for schools that serve large populations of students experiencing poverty. These grants aim to serve students, families, and the community by establishing community schools that offer wraparound services. he grants are formula-based and awarded to schools on an annual basis. The determining factor for eligibility is the 4-year average of the percentage of the school’s students living in poverty (excluding 2020-2021 school year), as determined by the compensatory education enrollment. Historically, this was measured by the number of students receiving free and reduced-price meals; however, the State has moved to count Medicaid and CHIP enrollment. There are two types of Concentration of Poverty Grants: the first is a personnel grant, which provides for the salaries of a Community School Coordinator and a Healthcare practitioner. The coordinator is responsible for identifying student needs along with input from the community, establishing partnerships with service providers, and coordinating of wraparound services. The Healthcare practitioner is tasked with arranging and providing health services. The second type of Concentration of Poverty Grant, the per-pupil grant, provides an additional layer of funding based on the percentage of students living in poverty. This grant begins a year after a school becomes eligible, starting with fiscal year 2022. This grant is awarded on a sliding scale.
  • Foundation Program Formula: The Foundation Program Formula is the main program in general education aid and accounts for about half of state-funded aid. Also known as the “Foundation Formula,” it ensures a base level of funding per pupil via the basic formula: per pupil foundation amount X local enrollment.
  • Maintenance of Effort (MOE): Maryland’s “maintenance of effort” (MOE) school funding law, enacted by the General Assembly, requires that counties maintain the same amount of funding for education per pupil each year. The maintenance of effort name derives from the concept that a county maintains a level of effort towards education funding from year-to-year.
  • Wealth formula: The determination of “county wealth” is central to determining the state funding levels for schools in each jurisdiction. Maryland is like most states in using wealth-adjustment as a means to promote funding equity. Overall, the policy goal is to ensure that all students receive appropriate school funding, regardless of the local “ability to pay” of their county tax bases. So, the state role reduces funding disparities.

State agencies and offices

  • Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board (AIB): The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Accountability & Implementation Board (AIB) is an independent unit of State government that was created to ensure that the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is implemented as intended. ​The AIB holds State and local governments accountable for implementing the Blueprint with fidelity and evaluates whether the Blueprint’s outcomes are being achieved.
  • Interagency Commission on School Construction (IAC): The Interagency Commission on School Construction is established in Title 5, Subtitle 3 of the Education Article, Annotated Code of Maryland. It works with local education agencies to ensure safe and healthy school facilities. Responsibilities include:
    • Approving sites and plans for new or improved school facilities;
    • Establishing a State and local cost-share for school construction projects for each County;
    • Adopting requirements for and reviewing Educational Facility Master Plans;
    • Reviewing and approving Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Grant Allocation Requests;
    • Adopting requirements for and reviewing Comprehensive Maintenance Plans submitted by local school systems;
    • Reviewing and approving school property transfers or dispositions;
    • Preparing projections of school construction needs for the Capital Debt Affordability Committee;
    • Being a central repository for information on school facility design and construction best practices;
    • Administering approximately ten active school construction grant programs; and
    • Conducting a statewide school facilities assessment and conducting ongoing assessments at each school at least once every four years.
  • Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS): The Maryland Center for School Safety (MCSS) serves as an independent unit of the State government that provides grants, training, and support to public, non-public special education, and private schools throughout Maryland. MCSS was established in 2013 in an effort to provide a coordinated and comprehensive approach to school safety in Maryland. In 2018, the Governor and General Assembly worked together to enact comprehensive school safety legislation (Safe to Learn Act 2018) in order to ensure Maryland continues to be a leader in school safety initiatives.
  • Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE): The Maryland State Department of Education is the statewide agency overseeing Maryland’s public education. The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) works collaboratively with the State Board of Education, local education agencies, and stakeholders to implement Maryland’s early childhood education and K-12 programs. The Department is overseen by the State Superintendent.

Stakeholders and other groups

  • Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE): Founded in 1957, MABE is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to serving and supporting boards of education in Maryland. MABE is a leading advocate for public education in the state. All 24 Maryland boards of education are members of MABE.
  • Maryland State Education Association (MSEA): MSEA is the 75,000-member Maryland affiliate of the National Education Association, which represents 3 million education employees across the country. MSEA is the state’s largest professional employee organization. Members include elementary and secondary teachers, education support professionals, certificated specialists, school administrators, retired educators, higher education faculty, and students preparing to become members. MSEA supports 39 local affiliated associations throughout Maryland.
  • Public Schools Superintendents’ Association of Maryland (PSSAM): PSSAM is a non-profit advocacy organization jointly committed to partnering with local boards of education and governments to sustain excellence in education for more than 893,689 of Maryland’s students. PSSAM features representation by all 24 of Maryland’s local superintendents and strives to sustain educational excellence for all public school children in Pre-K through 12th grade and beyond. We provide leadership training and collaboration opportunities for current and aspiring superintendents with the goal of advocacy through a unified voice.

Terms related to the COVID-19 pandemic

  • American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSR): These funds are federal COVID-19 relief money targeted at public education through the American Rescue Plan’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) Fund. The ARP ESSER program’s goal is to help LEAs “prevent, prepare for, and respond to” COVID-19.
  • “COVID gap”/ “learning loss”: The switch to virtual and hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic left many kids struggling, whether due to a lack of resources and internet access, a loss in hands-on learning, or familial and community preoccupations during the pandemic. Data shows that nationwide, students were left behind during the pandemic, leading to learning loss and creating a “COVID gap” of where students are with learning and proficiency compared to where they should be.