The following is the written testimony that was provided to the Maryland Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education at the public hearing held on October 25, 2017 at Largo High School in Upper Marlboro, MD.
Chairman Kirwan and members of the commission,
My name is Jodi Bortz. I am a founding member of Support Our Schools, based in Kent County Maryland. The Support Our Schools (SOS) Initiative is a grassroots advocacy effort devoted to increasing awareness of and support for the needs, challenges, and untapped potential of Kent County’s public school system.
As Maryland’s smallest school district, we are both heartened and concerned by the preliminary reports that were filed by the commission in December of last year. Kent County is home to Maryland’s first full day universal Pre-K program, a best practice that was recommended in the preliminary report which has returned high dividends in Kindergarten readiness for our children. We have a strong Career & Technology program at our one and only high school. And we are making great strides with regard to STEM education. We are encouraged to see space for growth in these areas and more as part of the preliminary findings of the commission.
Our concerns lie in funding these lofty goals. Kent County has a high concentration of poverty in our school system. 100% of Kent County’s schools meet the criteria of high poverty concentration. Over 50% of our students are eligible for or receive FARM assistance. Every school is a Title I school.
The last few years our schools have cut staff, closed buildings, and implemented myriad efficiencies to continue to provide the same level of education in the classroom. Any additional cuts are going to affect learning. Our district is funded by our local county commission at the same overall level as it was 10 years ago. We are bleeding students due to lack of resources, which leads to less per-pupil funding. The problem feeds itself.
Our first concern is that this commission will not act fast enough to help us. Kent County’s politicians have made it clear that they do not have the will to prioritize education. They apply only 37% of our expenditures toward education, versus a state average across other counties that hovers around 50% annually. Families with children in Kent County are a small voting block and an overall poor one. Without outside intervention by the state, our local government will not do more for our children and our schools.
In the report prepared by Augenblick, Palaich and Associates titled “Final Report of the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in Maryland”, APA made some recommendations regarding funding that concern us, as citizens of the smallest district with the least clout.
First, the recommendation to eliminate state minimum funding is concerning. Absent political will locally, it is necessary for the state to safe-guard each child’s right to a good education. While the current funding formula is largely at play in our current funding problems, a balance must be struck. When putting together your funding formula, we ask that you consider our particular difficulty of high concentrations of poverty.
Second, on page 107 of the APA report, the second paragraph ends with the following concerning statement: “Three counties, Kent, Talbot, and Worcester, would lose all of their state aid due to the recommendations for required local shares, the elimination of minimum state aid amounts, and changes in the local wealth calculation.” We believe if the commission were to act on this recommendation, the end result would be devastating to both Kent County Public Schools and Kent County’s overall economy. We ask that you keep in mind the problems that come within a community that does not have economy of scale, and that cannot leverage the purchasing power that larger districts can when negotiating for goods and services.
On behalf of Support Our Schools and parents of Kent County’s public school children, I thank you for your time and consideration. We would also ask you to visit Kent County to see for yourself what has been accomplished on a shoestring budget, and how precariously we are dependent on your recommendation to move us forward.