It was a beautiful morning to spend with a few hundred students, teachers, friends, neighbors, and fellow parents at Lake Montebello. The rally was motivated by proposed dramatic changes in charter school funding by Baltimore City Public Schools which were later un-proposed due to vigorous opposition. In light of the decision by BCPS to back away from the original proposal, the rally took on a celebratory but also defiant tone–that this is just the first step in a process of ensuring that BCPS is transparent in their distribution of funds, that BCPS is accountable to community groups and elected officials, and that our governor follow through on the will of the General Assembly in ensuring adequate funding for city students.
The charter funding debate is often framed as an us vs. them, charter vs. traditional school situation. That is inaccurate and unhelpful. All of our schools share a common purpose: to challenge and educate the young people of our city, helping to instill in them a love of learning, and helping each student reach and stretch beyond their limits. Some of the most helpful and positive things I heard today were repeated calls for solidarity across all schools, across all families, across all city students. We are in this together, and we all need financial transparency and accountability from North Avenue in order to ensure that every student, in every school, has fewer barriers to their success.
Let’s be clear–the new funding proposal for city charter schools was a terrible idea. Instead of a steady per-pupil amount (it’s been around $9,000 each year for the past few years), the plan envisioned roughly $5,000 per student, plus another $5,000 if they were experiencing poverty, and another $5,000 if they were studying English as a Second Language. Thus an Iraqi refugee student brings $15k with them to the classroom while a middle-class kid from Northwood brings $5k. Some charter schools would have seen increases of hundreds of thousands of dollars, at the expense of other charter schools who would have lost hundreds of thousands. It’s a vital thing to make sure that children experiencing poverty or learning English for the first time receive appropriate resources for their education. But we can work toward that goal while also avoiding unbelievably disruptive shifts in the base funding formula.
The problem to be resolved isn’t just one ill-conceived funding proposal but is the budgetary uncertainty which comes each year. Some of that is driven by Annapolis shenanigans, but much uncertainty is also created in the charter law itself–which calls for “commensurate funding” between traditional and charter schools, but does not define what “commensurate funding” ought to be. Thus city charter operators and BCPS are left to fight out, every year, what “commensurate funding” means for this year’s budget. We’ve got enough things to do in order to improve public education in Baltimore–there’s no need for us to waste time arguing with one another. Whether in court or in Annapolis or through the negotiations led by former Mayor Schmoke, we need a long-term budgetary answer that can provide stability and clarity to support all 85,000 students in the city, including the 14,000 in charters.