Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Report: Resources and Staffing among MCPS Schools

We received a report today from the Office of Legislative Oversight describing school funding and allocation patterns within Montgomery County Public Schools. The report, titled Resources and Staffing among MCPS Schools, compares differences in class size, staff tenure, per pupil expenditures and teacher salary costs between MCPS’ schools with the highest rates of free and reduced priced meals and those with the lowest FARMS rates. The report also examines the additional state and federal revenue that MCPS receives and budgets for ESOL and compensatory education programs that serve these two student subgroups.

The achievement gap between poor and middle class or wealthy students remains one of the most important and most intractable problems within our otherwise excellent education system in Montgomery County. I’m grateful to the Office of Legislative Oversight for its in-depth look at the resources allocated to resolving this long-standing issue. The findings raise some complex questions that I encourage the Board of Education to consider seriously.

Each year, the Board of Education asks the County Council for additional funding over Maintenance of Effort to meet the needs of its increasingly diverse and low-income student enrollment. According to the OLO report, though, MCPS only allocated two-thirds of the $151 million it received in additional federal and state aid for low-income students to compensatory education programs designed to meet their learning needs. That leaves $47 million in funds designed to close the gap unaccounted for. Why should the County Council ask taxpayers to chip in more resources for closing the achievement gap when MCPS hasn’t used all the money it already has precisely for that purpose?

MCPS notes in its response to the report that using $47 million in compensatory education funding for non-compensatory education programs is legal under state law. I don’t question whether it is legal, but I question whether it is morally right given the persistence of the achievement gap between poor and non-poor students in MCPS. What could MCPS have done for under-achieving students if the $47 million had been spent exclusively on compensatory programs? MCPS claims that it must use the $47 million in compensatory funding for other programs in order to maintain the high quality of instruction across the County. Does MCPS really need to tap this relatively small resource when the total MCPS budget is $2.3 billion? Where is the nearly two and a half billion dollars going if not to instruction across the County?

These are serious questions, and I look forward to working with MCPS on serious solutions. I thank the Office of Legislative Oversight for its hard work on the report.

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