Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Reinvigorating the MCCPTA Blog - Public Education funding in Maryland -- what to pay attention to in an election year

I started this blog with an Advocacy emphasis during my tenure as MCCPTA VP Advocacy a couple of years back. It's been quiet for awhile now -- but not any more.

Look to see an upcoming series of posts on issues of all sorts -- to respect your inboxes, and to inform.  Guest posters will include our officers, advocacy committee members, the issue-area experts for each of the Advocacy Priorities the Delegates Assembly approved in October, and more.

MCCPTA has an excellent team of officers this year, and great energy in our membership - committees and subcommittees working actively on issues we care about, actively reaching out for additional members, and sharing their work with all of us.

The budget committees - CIP and Operating - are in high gear.  Health and Safety has groups working on school climate (combatting hate in all its forms), mental health, school nutrition, wellness initiatives, opioid crisis and other addictions and more.  Reflections is in high gear, Curriculum and its subcommittees are working on MANY issues - the new ES report cards, sifting through and understanding the data on graduation college readiness (with the new reporting rubric), finding ways to make the process of course selection in middle and high school one that INCLUDES parents and students in meaningful ways, Cultural Arts is ready and willing to share volumes of resources to help PTAs support cultural arts programs in schools, the GT committee will soon sponsor another forum, the Special Education committee continues its strong work on issues, and making MCCPTA aware of opportunities and events. The Advocacy Committee is in high gear, keeping our collective eyes on the Kirwan Commission, the Knott Commission, the governor's executive order on the school calendar, the upcoming General Assembly session, working with our community partners on candidate forums and candidate questionnaires. The list goes on, the work never stops, and there is always room for you to join in...

MCCPTA is a wide AND deep organization because of the power, passion, experience, expertise and energy of our collective members.  Individuals working on the issues they care about, and sharing with the rest of us!

Learn more, and join us -- check out our webpage at www.mccpta.org

Enough of the overview, now to the other purpose of this post -- how to stay critically informed about education related issues on the State level, and how to hold our elected officials, and elected official 'wannabes' accountable.

It seems these days as if we are perpetually in an election year -- political messaging and partisan bickering is everywhere -- and much of the rhetoric and policy coming out of the current White House has very real and very damaging impacts on our public schools, public education, and MCPS students. That's the subject of another post.

But it actually IS a state-wide election year in Maryland -- all of our county and state offices will be on the ballot in the June 26, 2018 primary and the Nov. 6, 2018 General Election. And frankly, with the new term limits in MoCo meaning more than half of our nine county council seats will not have an incumbent running, the county executive race is wide-open, and the 6th District Congressional seat being open --- everybody seems to be running for something, and many incumbents at all levels are shifting focus - running for new offices and giving up their current seats.

And public education is the holy grail -- it is essential. The mission of PTA is to make every child's potential a reality, and long ago we realized that providing access and opportunity to high quality education was the only way to achieve that. Did you know that the Maryland Constitution places only two explicit responsibilities on the General Assembly -- passing a balanced budget each year and providing for a free, adequate system of public education. If you ever talk to someone running for state-wide office and they don't know that, or don't acknowledge that they are constitutionally required to make public education the highest priority -- I would look for another candidate

All subjects for more blog posts -- because now is the time of year we focus on budgets in the County, and State-wide issues, because the 90-day General Assembly session kicks off on January 10, 2018. But, because 2018 is an election year, everything coming out of Annapolis this session will be more political than usual --- see above -- EVERYBODY is running for something!!!

The State portion of our public school funding is formula driven --- in the 2002 "Bridge to Excellence" Act, the General Assembly set out a specific, mandatory, formula driven funding method to ensure a certain basic level of per pupil funding for every public school system, and public school student, in Maryland.  Though the governor has a lot of budget power in Maryland - more in fact than any other U.S. governor -- the governor can't avoid the mandatory funding formulas in the law.  So -- it's an election year -- when you hear candidates and office-holders make claims about public school funding (because they're all going to say education is the highest priority), ask these questions:
  • Are you talking about public education? (Because there's been a lot of redirection of public money to private schools in the past couple of years)
  • When you say 'increased education funding' - are you talking about spending even one penny more than the Bridge to Excellence formulas require you to spend?
  • Because -- education spending has increased in Maryland every year for the past 15 -- but in most years that's just because the number of public school students has increased.  The Bridge to Excellence funding formulas are all 'per pupil' based -- number of students goes up, education spending goes up..... number of students goes down, education funding goes down.
  • Beware of the governor's animus towards 'formula-driven funding' -- saying things like it removes autonomy, flexibility, and accountability from the budget cycle.  Truth is -- almost all formula-driven funding in Maryland is specific to public education.  So attacking the formulas IS attacking funding for our public schools
  • And remember -- the current governor refused to spend $68 million in dedicated public school funding his first year in office -- in the FY2016 budget the GCEI formula funds were never released to the school districts like MCPS where education costs are higher than average. The governor had two choices -- release the allocated funds to public schools, or let the money sit there. He let the money sit there.
  • And - looking at the work of the Kirwan Commission (Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education) they're making some serious recommendations about educational priorities in Maryland --- early childhood education, enhanced means of professionalizing the teacher workforce, creating a high quality cadre of diverse educators, CTE education etc. etc. But to really make Maryland schools the envy of the world takes commitment, substantive work vs. cosmetic changes, and FUNDING.  What do our elected officials and candidates say about that?
The Baltimore Sun has been doing some excellent reporting on the work of the Kirwan Commission - here's a link to a recent article:

The organization Strong Schools Maryland is also doing great work following the work and priorities of the Kirwan Commission, and sharing substantive information about the educational priorities and issues identified in the Commission's work -- here's a link to Strong Schools website:


There's always lots going on in Maryland if you care about public education -- so stay tuned!