OLO Report Wrongly Interprets State Education Funding Law
The Montgomery County Board of Education strongly believes in providing our schools with the highest needs more resources to support students. This is a fundamental part of our core value of equity and an essential strategy we believe will help narrow our achievement gaps. In many of our higher need schools, we invest as much as $4,000 more per student. Perhaps that is why we find the most recent Office of Legislative Oversight (OLO) report Resources and Staffing in MCPS Schools so offensive.
The OLO has a history of independent analysis of issues impacting Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS). In the past, the reports have been produced through respectful collaboration with MCPS staff. This report dents that reputation. We have studied the report and we are appalled; rather than recognize our efforts or provide useful suggestions, the report suggests we embark down a path that no other school district in Maryland follows and ignores efforts already under way to address our achievement gaps. The report blithely misinterprets state education financing under the Bridge to Excellence Act of 2002. More puzzling and troubling, by its own admission, the OLO ignores in its analysis a huge list of well-funded programs and initiatives dedicated to narrowing achievement gaps, specifically those providing support for our black and Hispanic students. We are happy to have a conversation about what we as a county should be investing in our children but this deeply flawed report would be an inappropriate basis for such a conversation.
The OLO report doesn’t give MCPS and Montgomery County any credit for the investments it does make to close our minority achievement gaps. OLO faults MCPS for not spending all of the state compensatory funding on students impacted by poverty. But what the OLO considered in their analysis was the result of an arbitrary determination that failed to include many of the additional investments the Board and the County have made to meet the needs of our diverse student body. Not included were programs that ensure that our staff have the professional development they need, through cultural competency training, ESOL Teachers Coaching and Study Circles. Indeed, the costs of our entire Equity Unit were not considered. The costs associated with our diversity hiring initiative were excluded. Programs that foster integration, such as our magnets and consortia were not included. It is ironic that OLO has devoted two reports on the consortia as tools for closing the achievement gap, but does not include their costs in this report. Other investments ignored in the report include our bringing the International Baccalaureate program to highly impacted secondary schools, including Watkins Mill and most recently Seneca Valley high schools and the establishment of a project-based learning environment at Wheaton High School. The Board added counselors to the budget to be allocated to high needs schools, yet those costs were excluded. Other programs which should fairly be considered as addressing the needs of our most at-risk students include High School Intervention, Interim Instructional Services, Summer School, Minority Achievement Program, Extracurricular Funds, HSA Bridge Program, and Language Assistance. Yet OLO did not consider all these programs in their analysis.
We are further dismayed by the glib conclusions in the OLO report. It suggests for instance that all of the state funds that MCPS receives for “compensatory” education only should be spent in the schools with the highest poverty rates. Because we don’t have additional funds this would require us to take $47 million in funding from districtwide gap-closing strategies and other schools and shift it to high-needs schools. Not only is this counterproductive, but it is not at all how this state funding program was intended to be implemented. The “Thornton Commission” brought together stakeholders throughout education in 2002 to develop a plan that would provide schools with adequate funding and greater flexibility to serve all students and narrow achievement gaps. We have students with needs at every one of our schools. Disinvesting in those schools, as suggested by OLO would not be in the best interest of these students. Every school district in the state uses this funding as part of its overall budget and not in the arbitrary and restricted way that OLO has suggested.
Mr. Larry A. Bowers, our Interim Superintendent, provided a detailed response to the flawed analysis contained in the report. In addition to providing OLO with the data and information requested, we spoke to the authors once we realized that they were veering away from the initial stated charge of this report—to discover how MCPS differentiates resources—to focusing almost exclusively on compensatory funding. We identified misconceptions in the draft report about the role of compensatory funding and the amount that MCPS spends on programs for students in need. Very few of those changes made it into the report, leading us to wonder if the OLO ever had an interest in presenting a fair, balanced picture of resources and staffing in MCPS.
Here’s the truth: MCPS provides as much as $4,000 more per student to schools that have the greatest needs. And, we direct millions of dollars each year to programs that serve students and families that have the greatest needs. We would love to do more, but seven years of severe economic challenges has made that difficult.
We appreciate Council member Craig Rice’s statement on the OLO report in which he acknowledged the work the Board has done to provide equitable funding. We join him in pledging to work together as a team to discuss and implement productive strategies, initiatives and programs for all our children. As our student enrollment continues to grow and change, the Board is very interested in being an effective partner with the County Council to meet the needs of our most impacted students. But that conversation cannot center on giving more resources to some at the expense of others. We must have a productive conversation about how we can invest more in education and ensure we get a strong return on that investment.
That is the morally right thing to do.
Patricia B. O’Neill, President
Phil Kauffman, Chair, Policy Management Committee
Christopher S. Barclay, Chair, Strategic Planning Committee
Dr. Judith Docca, Member
Eric Guerci, Student Member of the Board