Kirwan Commission: Accounting for Poverty in Education Funding

Last school year, our City came together in a tremendous push to close a $130M funding gap for Baltimore City Public Schools. Because of the voices of our students, parents, teachers, principals, and community leaders, our elected officials at the State and City level provided enough funding to reduce the gap to $30M and avoid the worst of the anticipated instructional and facilities impacts. But a $30M gap still has an impact on teaching and learning and conditions in schools, and we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Baltimore City Public Schools students and families were once again forced to accept less.

The reality is that the funds restored this year — and committed for the next three years — to minimize the gap are simply a short-term reprieve. We still have to solve the much larger issue of equitable education funding in the State of Maryland, and the next move lies with the Kirwan Commission. The commission, so named for its chair, Dr. Brit Kirwan, the former University of Maryland System Chancellor, was established in 2016 by the General Assembly. It is charged with recommending changes to the State’s education funding formula and will release its proposals this December.

While the Kirwan recommendations have not yet been made they may be informed by a report from a national firm, APA Consulting, concluding that Maryland should invest an additional $2.6 billion in its public schools. Most notably, the report advises increasing the State’s base per-pupil funding amount from $6,900 to $10,800, while decreasing the additional funding amounts – or weights – allotted for students in need of additional supports.

This recommendation to decrease funding weights for the students who need the most support should alarm all of us working to improve educational outcomes for our most vulnerable students in districts across Maryland, and especially here in Baltimore City. Daily, our students confront food insecurity and housing instability, mental and physical health challenges and violence– the effects of the concentrated poverty in which many of them live.

Inadequately addressed, these effects all come to bear in our public schools. Our educators strive to meet our students where they are – too often, where they are is hungry, tired, stressed, and sometimes traumatized. That’s part of why it costs more to serve our students. Increasing the base per-pupil funding for each student without also increasing the weights for students in need of additional support fails to recognize the significant impact of poverty in a child’s development and will not be enough to provide a truly equitable education.

The failure to fully close last year’s budget gap sent a message to City Schools students, unquestionably the most at-risk, high-need population in the State. It’s time we stopped saying to those who need us the most that they should accept less. The Kirwan Commission will issue its recommendations in December. Let’s make the case for our students to receive the funding they need to receive the type of education every child deserves.

Supporting Baltimore City Public Schools Principals

ffee_3-30-17_0135On Monday, May 22nd, the Fund for Educational Excellence will host the second annual Heart of the School Awards celebrating the dedication and tireless efforts of our Baltimore City Public Schools principals. With the support of City Schools, as well as business, foundation and community partners, this special night will recognize ten exceptional leaders who have demonstrated exemplary innovation, execution, and leadership, building strong school cultures.

Since our successful inaugural event last year, I am often asked why the Fund decided to make this commitment to a principal recognition program. The answer is easy. We think school leadership is absolutely critical to the success of any school. Every research study on turn-around schools or high performing schools says the same thing: it can’t be done without a dynamic principal leading the way.

We see this time and time again in our work where a strong, committed principal is a pre-condition for success for implementing new programs. We hear it in the community discussions we conduct for our Analysis and Engagement studies. And it is re-iterated in the 587 nominations we received this year from teachers, parents, students and community members for 84 individual City Schools principals.

Principals have one of the toughest jobs you can imagine. The responsibility they have for students, teachers and educational outcomes is enormous, particularly in high-need, urban centers like Baltimore where they are constantly asked to do more. They deserve every bit of recognition and support that we can give them.

Please help us celebrate all our 181 City Schools principals by buying a ticket or making a donation today to the Heart of the School Awards on Monday, May 22nd at the historic Hippodrome Theatre. All proceeds go to our Principal Support Fund that awards up to $5,000 to principals for innovative projects or opportunities that benefit their students, teachers and schools. To-date, we’ve awarded 26 grants totaling over $100,000 for projects ranging from classroom technology to student field trips, professional development, and parent engagement.

Thank you for sharing our commitment to principals and we look forward to seeing you next Monday, May 22nd.

Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools

We are excited to share our latest report, Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools, looking at school choice in Baltimore City Public Schools.

city-college1Calculated Choices is an outgrowth of our 2015 report, Building A Bright Future, which explored how our high school students prepare for college, and the disparities in experience students have depending on which high school they attend. With school choice now an established part of our local education landscape, we wanted to better understand how students and their parents make decisions about to which schools they apply. Along the way, the critical role that middle school plays in this process came into sharp focus as both the options available and the choices families make in 5th grade influence students’ secondary education.

As in our prior reports, this study merges analysis of local and national data with insights from 418 students and parents across 41 communities about how they experience the school choice process. What we learned is that our choice system in its current form has yet to correct the existing inequities.

The inequity is seen in the different pathways that are generally available to families in higher-income vs. lower-income neighborhoods. It starts in middle school where students in higher-income areas have greater access to specialized academic programming. The academic boost they get from such programming helps them earn higher composite scores, increasing their chances of admission to our city’s selective ‘entrance criteria’ high schools over those of their lower-income peers.

However, Calculated Choices also shows that parents and students across all income levels share the same goals and want the same things from our schools with six main themes emerging from our conversations. Participants want strong academics across all schools and geographic areas combined with supportive, safe school cultures led by teachers and staff. When navigating the school choice process, students and parents need information on admission criteria, school offerings and the application steps, as well as consistent school-based support before and during the choice process.

These insights offer our community a roadmap for how to improve school choice going forward. We hope you will take some time to review Calculated Choices, and check out our Baltimore Sun Op Ed.  Please reach out to us via email or social media to keep the conversation going.