Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who has boasted about a state budget surplus, will not include funding for Baltimore City Public Schools that elected officials expected and that studies show would benefit the district.
That’s according to Hogan’s proposed 2023 budget, which increases statewide school funding by $260.2 million (a 3.5% budget increase) but specifically notes that it will not be funding the Education Effort Adjustment component of years-in-the-making education reform, which intends to provide specific funding to the state’s two majority-Black school districts, Baltimore City and Prince George’s County.
Last week, State Delegate for Baltimore City Marlon Amprey highlighted language in Hogan’s budget that explicitly said it would not be considering the Education Effort Adjustment: “Hogan took over $125 million from Black and Brown children and is now touting this stolen money as a surplus. We promised over $125 million to Baltimore City and Prince Georges last year with Kirwan and he just took it out of his budget,” he tweeted.
This funding is one of the recommendations made in the lengthy bipartisan Kirwan Commission study, which said that Maryland schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion each year. The commission was created as a requirement of a court order that said the state had long failed its constitutional requirement to adequately fund schools that serve low-income students.
Hogan has maintained a consistent Republican talking point: Schools have enough money, it’s just mismanaged. Last year, Hogan refused to sign a complementary bill to the Blueprint For Maryland’s Future, the multi-billion dollar education reform bill based on the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission. His reason at the time was concern about spending, he said. But Hogan has spent the last few months talking about “refunding the police”—by which he means giving them even more money—and boasting of a budget surplus while local districts scrambled for resources to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was elected governor to rein in years of out-of-control spending in Annapolis, to eliminate the $5.1 billion structural deficit we inherited, and to turn around our state’s floundering economy,” Hogan said back in October. “This historic surplus is further proof we have done exactly that.”
It is important to consider the right-wing rhetoric surrounding Baltimore City schools recently, and over the past few years, and how often it aligns with Hogan’s talking points. For instance, the criticism of Baltimore City Schools’ performance, which is often misrepresented or overstated, has been central to Hogan’s messaging and conservative news.
Just last week, Fox News demagogue Tucker Carlson had a lengthy segment about Baltimore and its failings—all of which, Carlson wrongfully claimed, are the result of Baltimore City being soft on crime and run by Black Democrats.
“Baltimore is a city run by people who fervently believe in the equity agenda and consider gender studies a legitimate academic discipline,” Carlson claimed. “In Baltimore, pretty much everyone in charge is Black, yet it’s a matter of religious faith that the main thing holding the city back is white racism.”
Carlson also negatively compared Baltimore to Haiti, invoked the city’s staggering murder rate, and made specious claims about its school system. Specifically, Carlson mentioned a test at Baltimore City’s Patterson High School that showed, according to Carlson, that 77% of the students there (in reality, it was 77% of the students tested) read at an elementary school level. The school pushed back, adding context: English is not the first language of 40% of the students at Patterson High School; the test was aimed at determining reading levels post-virtual learning; the students themselves have been through 18 difficult months of a disruptive pandemic; and test scores are not the only way to determine students’ abilities.
Whether those explanations seem reasonable or inadequate don’t really matter to Carlson anyway, who just did a second segment sniping back at the schools’ response and at Mayor Brandon Scott’s tweet calling Carlson’s segment “racist vitriol.”
The story of Patterson High School’s reading levels that Carlson highlighted began with local Baltimore news. A day before Carlson attacked Baltimore City schools, Baltimore news affiliate Fox45 aired a segment about Patterson High School’s reading levels based on the leaking of these performance test results by a teacher. Fox45 is the flagship station of the very influential and deeply conservative Sinclair Broadcasting.
Over the years, The Real News has frequently called attention to the problems with Fox45’s education reporting, especially its deceptive claims about Baltimore City school funding. For example, back in 2017, Fox45 claimed that there were no students who were proficient in math at 13 Baltimore City high schools. While that was true about those 13 city schools, Fox45 reporting did not mention that schools in other parts of the state also scored similarly. Additionally, the test does not measure achievement, but proficiency with the Common Core curriculum. That Fox45 story was also picked up by Fox News.
A persistent Fox45 claim is that Baltimore City Public Schools spends around $16,000 per student every year, and that this is the fourth highest per-student spending rate in the nation. In reality, Baltimore City Public Schools rank the fourth highest among the largest 100 school systems, but nowhere near the highest funded overall. City schools rank around 2,400 out of approximately 13,000 of the country’s school districts.
Over the years, that ‘fourth highest’ detail in particular has been frequently cited by Gov. Hogan as justification for denying additional funding to Baltimore City Schools.
During this week’s Baltimore City Council meeting, a resolution passed demanding Hogan fully fund the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future. The gesture is entirely symbolic, but the frustration with Hogan’s ongoing refusal to acknowledge the reality of Baltimore City school funding was quite real.
“It’s troubling that we’re at a moment where the state is dealing with a huge surplus. And to cut this money out at this particular point, is extremely problematic,” Council President Nick Mosby said. “This [resolution] is to show our unification not only as a council but also with our state delegation as they continue to fight.”
The resolution, “for the purpose of calling on Governor Lawrence J. Hogan to fully fund the Baltimore City Public Schools to the levels established by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and as required by state law,” was introduced by Mosby, who was on the committee setting education reform policy based on Kirwan’s recommendations.
Councilperson Eric Costello pointed out that this is how Hogan has handled school funding throughout his time as governor: leaving it to other elected officials more accountable to Baltimore City’s residents than he is to actually figure out school funding.
“What has happened with this is absolutely unconscionable,” Costello said. “And the reason that many folks don’t hear about this is because we have amazing representatives at the state level, and our Senate and our House of Delegates in Annapolis, who come in every single year, and clean this up and correct it so that our students are getting something remotely close to their fair share.”
Councilperson Ryan Dorsey took aim at Hogan’s “record-level funding” claims, which are pretty much meaningless, he noted.
“Every time I hear the phrase—which is often coming from the governor’s camp—that he has funded education to ‘a record level,’ I always want to remind people that yes, in raw dollars, the amount has gone up. But not even enough to cover the cost increases incurred year over year,” Dorsey said. “One dollar more is still a record level.”
While it’s true the state has failed to meet its obligation to adequately fund Baltimore schools, critics note that the city—with an annual police budget of $555 million—also contributes less to its schools than most other jurisdictions. Kirwan will also require Baltimore to significantly increase these contributions.