April 3, 2017

Public School Numbers Games Hide What Matters

I drafted this piece on Saturday, March 25, 2017, when no one knew if or how much money Governor Larry Hogan would “give” to Baltimore City Public Schools in his second supplemental budget. My child’s school was facing a 20 percent cut to our budget. I updated it on the 27th, when Hogan announced his add for City Schools. Now it looks like my child’s school budget will be cut 5 percent. I’ll just leave this here. I have been told it deserves to be shared.

On March 27, the governor of Maryland announced a plan to allocate to Baltimore City Public Schools an additional $23.7 million, which represents a small fraction of a multi-million dollar budget gap. For advocates like me, a big trick of fighting for  funding has been figuring out what to show to illustrate projected losses: a dollar sign, a percentage, an image of a classroom with 25 students next to the same one with 40?

The figure Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Sonja Santelises presented, and then leaders of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance ran with, and now Fox45 News is promoting to particularly misleading effect, is $130 million. That is the amount – rounded up by one to the nearest 10 – of the structural deficit that City Schools lacks the revenue to fill this year, and next year, and the year after that. Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 10.17.55 PM.pngDivided by the average teacher salary, it signifies more than 1,000 positions, rounded down by hundreds. In a panic that elided the need for a three-year fix, DBFA branded a campaign #releasethe130. In a simple pie chart, Fox45 reduced the 130 to a sliver – 10 percent – of the school system’s $1.3 billion budget.

Fox45’s coverage hands rural Marylanders ammunition to fight spending on the big city. “Baltimore City Schools spend nearly $16,000 per student every year, making it the fourth highest nationally, according to the most recent federal data available,” Fox asserts. “In return, taxpayers get some of the worst student outcomes in the state.” Countless “school reform” pushers and county politicians have used the same talking point, neglecting to mention that Baltimore has the highest rate of concentrated poverty, the highest percentage of students with special needs, the highest number of lead poisoned children. Their point: Money is wasted on Baltimore.

Also lost in the discussion of $130 million are the figures by which Baltimore City Public Schools have been underfunded for years. City Schools would have no deficit at all if the state had not cut the inflation adjustment nine years ago. If not for a decade of flat funding and rising costs, we would have at least $290 million more revenue this year, from the state alone. That does make $130 million seem small, not to mention $23.7 million.

Moreover, a state study released in late 2016 found that Baltimore City Public Schools would need an additional $350 million from the state to meet a funding level adequate to enable students to meet state standards. In three years, when the commission working on a revised state funding formula arrives at one that is fair and equitable, one can only hope for the sake of all students in Maryland that the governor fully funds it.

What no one in the media has looked at is what happens to the 10 percent district-level deficit when you distribute it across schools. It balloons.

My child goes to a Pre-K–Grade 8 public school in Baltimore City with more than 700 other students. The school touts low teacher turnover, a middle school Ingenuity program, a recently won E-GATE certification for gifted and advanced learning instruction, partnerships with MICA for arts instruction and McDonogh School for middle grades enrichment. It offers vocal and instrumental music, art, Spanish, fitness, and library time. After-school clubs include STEM, dance, musical theatre, French, Italian and Spanish.

If the district’s 10 percent deficit does not close, our school will lose up to 20 percent of our budget. One fifth. It will be as if we have lost funding for 140 students.

When that cut was announced in late February, “school choice” came to mean deciding whether to keep the half-time librarian. It meant weighing whether to eliminate the Gifted and Advanced Learning position or the vocal music position in exchange for keeping two kindergarten classrooms rather than squeeze them into one. It meant taking a hard look at whether the PTO at a school that receives the highest level of Title I funding possible, because nearly 9 of 10 students’ families qualify for nutrition assistance, has pockets deep enough to purchase a year’s worth of printer paper and fill the tuition gap for a sixth grade outdoor education program that will now take a lot more than T-shirt boosters and church-basement chili dinners to fund.

If that 10 percent gap is not filled, my school alone stands to lose six teachers and five staff. We will lose the Playworks coaches who elevate the mood at school on and off the playground. The school will make do, but it will not be the same.

That is what will happen to my child’s school as a consequence of this sudden budget crisis, a crisis the CEO says she did not see coming. But fighting that doesn’t stop me from thinking about what happens when whole school districts are inadequately funded. Many families with means leave. The few that stay invest in our own children’s schools. Buildings crumble. What is left are majority black and brown, minority-run, urban Democratic districts from which white Republican governors feel fine withholding tax dollars. And amidst the politics and the backroom dealing and the accusations of bloat and mismanagement, poor children don’t learn how to read.

The debate on this over the years has centered on whether the cause of “student failure” is teachers – and their unions – or poverty. The reformers say, “Hold teachers accountable.” The teachers say, “We can’t correct for poverty.” The reformers say the highest spending per pupil happens in poor performing schools, ignoring again and again that the highest spending goes to students with the highest need – students who need to learn English, or need speech and occupational therapy, or need a paid adult to accompany them throughout each school day. Some teachers unions inexplicably agree to have their pay correlated to student test scores.

All this — the underfunded school districts, the concentrated poverty, the race baiting politics, the crippling of teachers unions, the ignored needs, the batteries of tests — has forced a crisis of low student achievement. When students can’t reach “proficiency,” agenda-driven nonprofit groups peddle solutions to politicians eager for a fix that promises to preserve the racial status quo and please everyone — urbanite and county bumpkin alike. Those solutions are vouchers to private and religious schools, charter school expansion, “turnaround districts” that wipe out traditional public schools. Governors impose “accountability measures” for districts in exchange for state funding, even if that funding is not only a pittance but decades past due.

This year in Baltimore, as parents have been rallying to #releasethe130 and #fixthegap, Governor Hogan’s staff and appointed school board members have been rallying, too. It’s all in the open. They proposed legislation to create a separate, governor-appointed chartering authority for Maryland that would override local control, turn charter teacher unionization into a “right to work” opt-in situation, and undo efforts toward fair and equitable charter and traditional school funding. The governor and state board of education are aggressively resisting a bill that would limit test scores to just over half of student proficiency measures, gunning for three quarters. They have no interest in improving, let alone sustaining, a system of schooling that is publicly managed and run. In fact, Governor Hogan doubled funding for private and religious school vouchers as he ran out the clock on deciding to support the 11 Maryland school districts, including Baltimore City, that lost state revenue because they lost enrollment.

The media is full of numbers: $130 million, $290 million, $1.3 billion, $16,000. So is my head: One-fifth cut, six teachers gone, 9 of 10 classmates in poverty, $10,000 in printer paper for a whole school year. In the end, though, it all comes down to one individual. I don’t mean the governor. And I don’t mean my kid. I mean one whole child. No one should tolerate for a second the notion that Maryland’s budget – whatever Governor Hogan might say – funds a student in a single public school as if he or she equates to a fraction of a person. We all have a responsibility to keep our children whole.

March 23, 2017

The Quiet Fight for Fair School Funding in Baltimore City Continues

We ask that Baltimore City Schools reveal the actual disparity between charter and traditional public school funding per pupil for 2018…and one other thing.

via How much less are Baltimore traditional schools getting next year? — People for Public Schools

March 24, 2016

Baltimore City Charter Lawsuit Q&A

When charter schools filed suit against Baltimore City Public Schools in fall 2015, People for Public Schools wanted to know what was at stake. Here’s what we learned.

Source: Baltimore City Charter Lawsuit Q&A

January 14, 2016

Support Fair Funding for ALL Baltimore City Public School Students

Dear Readers of Re:education in Baltimore:

Nine charter school operators representing 14 of the more than 30 public charter schools in Baltimore City are suing for more money. We know they already get more. A new grassroots advocacy group of Baltimore City Public School parents and supporters called People for Public Schools compared a traditional and a charter of similar size and demographics. Charters have a clear advantage: more staff, more teachers, lower student-teacher ratios, more academic coaches and after-school activities – and they can carry surplus money over from year to year. If these charters win, they all will get more. And traditional schools will get even less. I think that’s wrong. I think fair and equitable funding is right. I think ensuring the sustainability of the public school system is right. I think decisions about budgets that have an impact on all our children should be made in public. If you agree, sign here:

October 10, 2015

Resources on the Funding Clash Between Charters and Baltimore City Public Schools

The root of the problem is a vague law, which has been vague since it was passed a decade ago.

The Maryland law concerning funding for charter schools

Official Documents

News Coverage


General Context for Understanding Baltimore’s Budget and Equity

Related Issues

May 23, 2014

Thank you, transformative Baltimore principals!

Thank you for saying this:

“There is widespread belief among teachers and principals that traditional public schools are subsidizing charters. This should trouble parents in traditional schools, especially parents helping school family councils make ends meet during budget season. It should trouble responsible charter parents and staff who do not want to succeed at the expense of children attending a traditional school. Each charter should reflect on its budget, then review the budget of a nearby traditional school — and vice versa — and discern the reasons for the disparity. The Baltimore City Public School System needs budget transparency and an honest conversation about how much it takes to run a great school.”

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-school-funding-20140522,0,6687049.story#ixzz32XKlYSyu

February 3, 2014

Baltimore Teacher’s Argument for “No” Vote on New Union Contract. Discuss.

From Baltimore City teacher Corey Gaber, published here with permission in the interest of amplifying the message and opening a space for debate beyond Facebook:

BALTIMORE CITY EDUCATORS: I would like to make an argument for why you should vote NO on the upcoming teachers contract. If you find it persuasive, please forward this (or just parts of it, or change the language for your audience) to everyone the new contract impacts.

1. Article 2.4 says:
“Individuals and organizations other than the Union shall not be permitted to use the school system’s interdepartmental mail and email facilities, or the right of distribution of materials to teachers’ mailboxes.” (http://www.baltimoreteachers.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/TENTATIVE-AGREEMENT.corrected.1.14.14.pdf)

So if Baltimore Teacher Network (BTN) or Educators for Democratic Schools decide to put on another teacher forum like we did last Thursday, for discussion topics like, “investigating the new teacher contract” (note that we have to investigate it on our own because we’re not actually co-creators of the product and we’re not informed of its contents until right before it’s shoved down our throats), then WE CAN’T EVEN PUT FLYERS IN FELLOW TEACHERS MAILBOXES to educate them about the opportunity thanks to this new clause.

This is a clear violation of first amendment rights and is written so broadly that it could be used to rule out almost anyone BUT the union from sending an email to a teacher.

Note that this is also a fearful and vindictive move by union leadership who threatened to sue BTN last year for sending emails to teachers on BCPSS accounts. Marietta English believes that if teachers get organized to even discuss issues that effect them, they may one day be a threat to overthrow current leadership. Voting yes is voting for a self-imposed gag order.

2. This is a fundamentally undemocratic process. If you value what your members think about something, then you give them an opportunity to consider the new contract, provide feedback, make changes if necessary, and THEN vote on it.

This timeline excludes such possibilities, meaning our concerns are not only not being represented by our representatives. there’s not even a genuine attempt to listen to them at a crucial point.

Approving this contract sends a message that you’re OK with the content AND the process, thus ensuring that future negotiations will follow a similar course.

3. Voting down this contract would open up a space to bring new (and old) ideas into the public forum for debate. For example:

-Including a Total Student Load into the contract that limits class sizes. We are in a privileged position at SBCS, but many others around the city aren’t so lucky. My girlfriend has classes of 37 and 34 third graders. Special educators across the city have case loads that are literally impossible to provide all the services necessary to. Total Student Load limits can also trickle down to social workers, school psychologists, and others

-We still have NO right to grieve the content of an observation or evaluation. Again this is not a big deal in places with fair and caring leadership, but for those of us with experience in other city schools, unstable/idiotic/vindictive principals can ruin good teachers careers with little to no due process. This is something the Chicago teachers won, among other things, as a result of their united and powerful strike.

-For those of you who do not believe in teachers being evaluated in part based on standardized test scores, this contract further cements the policy.

Thanks to those of you who took the time to read this. Any one of these 3 points I believe are enough to vote no on their own. Together, I think they make the choice obvious. If you’ve found what I say persuasive, please talk to your friends and colleagues at other schools and feel free to forward this email to them if you’d like.

Much love,


Connect with Corey on Twitter @DaKittenz.

October 2, 2013

You Can Help Choose the Next Baltimore City Public Schools CEO

The BCPSS School Board is in search of Baltimore’s next CEO. “Input sessions” tonight and tomorrow night will give people like you a chance to let the Board know what kind of person you’d like to see in that role. A former teacher? A business-minded bureaucrat? A union-lover? A radical reformer? A believer in community schools? A defender of the status quo? Maybe a leader proven to listen to reason?

The future of BCPSS is (sort of) in your hands. Even if you feel you have as much say over this as you do over ending the federal government shut-down, if you read this blog, I urge you to participate in this process.

Here’s how:

1) Attend an input session. Dates, times, and places are:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
6-7:30 p.m.
DIgital Harbor High School, 1100 Covington Street

Thursday, October 3, 2013
8:30-10 a.m.
City Schools’ district office, 200 E. North Ave

6-7:30 p.m.
Frederick Douglass High School, 2301 Gwynns Falls Parkway
The Enoch Pratt’s Southeast Anchor Library, 3601 Eastern Ave

2) Complete this survey. They are seeking input from as many constituents as possible.




August 14, 2013

Baltimore Parents Talk School Choice

So glad Maryland Morning did this report. These conversations have to happen in public more often. (I only wish I didn’t know all the panelists. Widen my circle of acquaintances, please, WYPR. I don’t know that many people.)




May 6, 2013

Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Alonso Announces Retirement

From my inbox:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Dear City Schools Partners and Friends,

I am writing to you today to let you know that at the end of the current school year, I will retire and leave Baltimore City Public Schools and this great city to return to my home in New Jersey to care for my aging parents and begin an academic position at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. It has not been an easy decision, because what we have accomplished together in recent years has been both important and extremely gratifying to me, professionally and personally. But life presents us with seasons, and it is time now for me to shift my focus.

I want to thank the Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners for the opportunity to help lead this era of reform in City Schools and for its commitment to transformational change. But without your dedication to our kids, your incredibly hard work and your willingness to join me on this reform journey, we would not be where we are today, proud of many successes and poised to usher in the biggest reforms yet for our kids and the district.

With the recent passage of legislation that provides funding for our 10-year buildings plan—which could not have happened without you—the work to provide 21st-century buildings for our students is moving full-steam ahead. And we have laid the groundwork to roll out new academic standards next year, along with support and evaluation systems for teachers and school leaders to ensure the best possible teaching and learning for all of our teachers and students in every classroom, in every school. This next chapter in the transformation of our district will be the most critical yet, and I know you will continue to partner with City Schools to make sure it does its best work on behalf of our kids.

Starting July 1, City Schools Chief of Staff Tisha Edwards will serve as interim CEO throughout the 2013-14 school year, while the Board of School Commissioners conducts a search for a permanent CEO. Ms. Edwards has provided exceptional energy and leadership in the past several years, leading the implementation of key reforms and overseeing the day-in and day-out work of running the district. In partnership with you and our Board members and staff, she will build on the work we all started together. For the district’s formal announcement and statement regarding the transition, please see today’s press release.

Transitions can be hard, and they can be disruptive. But this is a timely transition; it is the right time for me, and it is the right time for the district. The district is poised for a new level of reform. Coupled with our clear focus on kids and the strength of current leadership, this momentum makes me confident the transition also will be a smooth one. I am handing my work over to an extraordinary individual who has worked alongside me for more than five years, to a great team here at the district office, to a supportive Board that understands the critical role of leadership throughout the district, to teachers and administrators who serve our kids in heroic ways every day and to an entire community—from our political leaders and fellow agencies to our advocates and parents—that continues to rally in support of the work we all have done together.

You have been essential to the progress of the last six years, and on behalf of City Schools, I thank you for your unwavering commitment to our students and their futures. I look forward to working with you for the next couple of months and to cheering from a distance as you continue to support and help guide City Schools in its work to ensure the success of our 85,000 tremendous kids.

Andrés A. Alonso, Ed.D.
CEO, Baltimore City Public Schools

Press conference will be live streamed at 1 p.m., here: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/education-channel-77

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