As the Maryland General Assembly gears up for another session in January, the biggest battles are likely to be over the future of education funding.

How much to spend, and who is going to pay, should dominate the 90-day meeting, much as it did last year.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education — also called the Kirwan Commission — has urged state legislators to increase annual spending on education by almost $4 billion over the next decade.

The commission, headed by William E. Kirwan, former president of the University of Maryland and later chancellor of the whole state system, bluntly warned that Maryland schools are not as good as most Marylanders think they are.

How bad is it? According to Kirwan, more than 60 percent of Maryland’s graduating high school seniors can’t read at a 10th-grade level or pass an Algebra I test. That’s not good.

The commission said that Maryland is just not spending enough money on its children. Is that right? We are going to get into a lot of numbers here, but bear with us.

According to the publication Education Week, the national average per pupil spending among all the states is $12,756. Maryland is just above the national mark, at $13,146, but lower than other Northeastern states.

Vermont spends the most, at $20,540 per pupil, followed by New York at $19,697, Education Week said. Virginia, though, spends just $10,530, and North Carolina and Florida less than $10,000 a year.

Within our state, the variance is really large, and some systems are spending a lot. The Baltimore Business Journal reported this year that Baltimore City schools spent the third-most of the 100 largest school systems nationwide, at $16,184 per pupil, according to data from the Census Bureau.

The city’s schools are usually described as failing, despite that spending.

Four Maryland school districts ranked among the top 10 — Montgomery County fourth at $16,109, Howard County fifth at $15,921 spent per student and Prince George’s County sixth at $15,560. Montgomery and Howard schools have good reputations; Prince George’s schools, less so.

So, does more money buy better results? That is the $4 billion question.

According to the website The Nation’s Report Card, the national average math score for eighth-grade students in 2019 was 281 on a scale of zero to 500. Maryland’s students were at 280, almost exactly average. But so were New York students, also 280, even though the state spent almost $7,000 more per pupil on education.

And eighth-graders in Virginia, where spending is $2,000 a year less per pupil, scored 287, which the website called significantly above average.

Yes, that is a lot of number-crunching to digest. But we think it means that the Legislature needs to spend a lot more time thinking about how and where to spend education dollars than they so far have.

Implementing the Kirwan spending recommendations entirely would be a brutal exercise for Marylanders. The general idea is that the state would come up with about half of the money and individual jurisdictions would come up with the rest.

Legislators talk about legalizing sports gambling and legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana to raise the money. But the most generous projections are that those combined would generate one-eighth of the new money that Kirwan is recommending.

They also talk about redirecting some state spending, and it is always worthwhile re-examining the mission of all state agencies. But we cannot rob Peter to pay Paul, shortchanging transportation or public safety.

Most of the money would have to come from tax increases, and lots of them. And our state already collects a lot of money in taxes. According to the nonprofit Tax Foundation, the state and local tax burden in Maryland ranks seventh in the country. The income tax burden is second heaviest.

A recent survey reported that more than 70 percent of residents would be willing to pay more in taxes if the money improved the schools. Maybe, but how much more? They aren’t saying.

Just 20 years ago, another state panel — the Thornton Commission — recommended $2 billion in new spending, and it was approved. But educational results did not make any great leap forward.

Some Maryland schools are failing some students, but not all schools and not all students. State leaders need to be realistic about resources and strategic in new spending. More money is not always the answer to every problem.

(27) comments


California schools are among the highest in terms of spending per student yet their schools currently rank 43rd out of 50 states.


haha can you guys comment on anything without straight up lying??

california is 35/50 is spending per pupil:

and is ranked 21/50 in results:


lol can you guys comment on anything without straight up lying?

california spending per pupil is 35/50. their schools are ranked 21/50


sorry for the double post. my first one wasn't showing up and i thought maybe it was blocked for including links


I think the main factor in whether students take advantage of their education opportunities is their own attitude.


if money has nothing to do with quality of schools, then why do the rich insist on having local public school funding be tied to property taxes, and therefore the richer the parents, the more money comes in?

now, does that mean money is the ONLY factor? of course not. as others have pointed out, parental involvement (particularly in pre-school years) plays a huge role as well. but guess what? it's the poor parents are not able to participate as much, because they work longer hours with less flexibility and generally do not have the support structures richer parents do. the kids themselves are also dealing with more outside factors than their wealthier counterparts, of course, from having to do more to help the family, being undernourished, etc. so, universal pre-K, after school programs, and universal free breakfast/lunch would do a great deal to close these gaps. but those things cost money!


and it's funny how opinions like this that point out (rightly) that more money doesn't in and of itself fix every problem literally always use that fact to insist that we just stop spending money on schools alqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqtogqqqqqqqqqqqqqqqether. it's a con. the rich in this country would ultimately love to do away with public education entirely. *they'd* still be able to send their kids to school, of course, but why should anyone help those peasant children? if they're uneducated they're more easily exploited, after all!

also gotta love the "how will we pay for it?!" hand-wringing whenever we want to take care of our children or other vulnerable groups, yet you never see an eye batted at the fact that this country spends more on the military than the next 7 countries combined. and most of that money just funnels directly to huge defense corporations, of course, not to the actual 19 year olds we trick into fighting and dying for $$


It is like the Laffer Curve; if you take the simplistic argument of the "curve" it would lead you to expect maximum government revenue when the tax rate is zero. Of course that is preposterous and what matters is WHERE you are on the curve. Oddly none of the people touting the Laffer curve for lower taxes provides any quantitative analysis of where we sit currently. School spending is the same; there is a point where more money doesn't help but are we at that point?


hmm. not sure what happened there with all those superfluous Qs....


Bold and refreshing statement against the "free" ideology that seems to have intoxicated half of our political system. Of course nothing in life is free except a beautiful day and God's love but i read an article about a presentation on the Kerwin report that blithely stated that "the money issue will be dealt with later" while describing all the wonderful services schools would now be providing to children. Here's a thought; what if schools actually focus on educating children? Perhaps if we simplify rather than further convolute the mission we may have a chance of actually completing the mission competently. Just a thought.

I had no idea Maryland had the 2nd highest income taxes in the country! Dear God, please don't le me die here!


The chief predictor of successful student outcomes is, and has always been, parent involvement. When parents' are plugged into their children's education there will always be better outcomes.


First, we don't need a taj mahal to teach good.  It is wasted money.  Next, comparing money to education is not realistic.  You pay wages for the area you live in and the costs to live there.  If you don't, you don't get competitive teachers that will do an excellent job.

The real way to examine education is to look at your students and decide what you can do better.  For instance:

 - early childhood classes before kindergarten. 

- extra help for slow students 

- study halls, at school, where you can do your homework, with teachers to answer difficult questions.

 - discipline students and quit worrying about what race they are, unruly is unruly

 - gangs need to be identified and those in a gang removed from the school and put into separate schools.

The more you do, the better the results.  Money only satisfies, it does not cause better results, nor do elaborate palaces.


Agreed Dick. I would like someone to show me, for once, the correlation between cost per student, and student achievement. What's the slope of that line, and the correlation coefficient? What you list above is a good start.


But as noted above, cost per student may be high in an area that is expensive and low in an area that is not, yet not reflect the resources available to a student. What would be good is "resources per student". I would also like to see construction and administration separately from books/supplies/teacher salaries/aides and such. They are all important but in different ways.


Shiftless, see the link in my Nov 17, 2019 4:50pm below.


gabe; nothing in that article (which was interesting) changes my post. In Allegheny county it is likely cheaper to have school. Land, buildings and personnel are all almost certainly cheaper than Baltimore. So the $/kid may be higher in Baltimore than Allegheny, yet they still might not be able to add the extra help and effort that Allegheny kids receive for less money.


I would tend to agree shiftless if we were discussing land acquisition and school construction due to increasing school populations. However, the populations of both regions are declining, so there is no need for new schools. That leaves the cost of educating the current (declining?) student populations. Agreed, cost of living for teachers in Allegany county is probably cheaper for many items. But is teacher salary the only consideration when assessing costs? Also, those successful schools in Allegany county were not the only ones assessed. There were many that fell below the line. So what does it take for poor students in Allegany county to be s successful, when students at other schools in that region are not, all things being equal there?


My question on public paid childhood classes before kindergarten is how much of a difference does it really make by the time one graduates from high school versus more parental invovement in their own children(s)' early development? I think studies show that the income "gap" has a large factor on the "performance gap" and with the planet already overpopulated, should we be taxed more to make it easier for people to have children? How about eliminating income tax deductions/credits for having children and putting that money towards education?




Very common sense approach that I wish would be implemented. I would also add on your "extra help for slow students" with "extra challenge for fast students".


But less money always hurts, and that's what's been happening over the years.


Um, no,. Maryland ranks in the top 20% of states for student achievement, and Frederick County ranks 6th out of 25 school districts.

Here's an interesting article:


More money to fix things? Not always. But more often than not the problem is not enough money. And those responsible for spending need to list what they want to accomplish, how money will help, and even how they will know when they have done their work by measuring results. That should fix the problem. Less money does not fix many things.


And more money is no guarantee of better results.


I like the thought process!


Less money spent more wisely can fix things.



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