Teacher Pay Dominates Discussion of Proposed ‘Base’ Education Formula

Maryland Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley at a meeting of The Blueprint for Maryland's Future Funding Formula Workgroup. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines

Dramatic boosts proposed for teacher salaries in Maryland may need to be pared back, some members of a workgroup seeking to rewrite the state’s education funding formulas said Thursday.

Even so, the 13-member Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup decided to include the salary increases and other teacher incentives in a possible new “foundation” formula, which would guide the bulk of state spending on public education.

Workgroup members stressed that going forward with the calculations doesn’t mean they’ll be recommended in their entirety after other possible formula and funding changes are worked out.

Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley, who has expressed misgivings about the overall cost of recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, said allowing the calculations to be made shouldn’t be seen as a “ratification of the entire product moving forward.”

“That’s a disclaimer that I think just needs to kind of inoculate each and every member here,” Brinkley said.

The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education – more frequently dubbed the Kirwan Commission after Chairman William E. “Brit” Kirwan, who also chairs the workgroup – has recommended broad reforms to public education in Maryland, including raising the status of the teaching profession, improving education outcomes, expanding preschool, and increasing supports for students who live in poverty, have disabilities and are learning English.

The workgroup has tentatively agreed to include several of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations in the state’s new foundation formula:

  • increasing teacher salaries and implementation of a “career ladder” for educators;
  • a restructuring of the school day to give teachers more time to plan and work outside of the classroom;
  • additional school-based health and behavioral health programs; and
  • getting students to college and career readiness.

On a per-student basis, the foundation formula would need to increase by about $680 per student for increased teacher salaries, training and the career ladder. An increase of about $1,150 per student is needed to fund additional teachers if the school day is restructured. The cost for increasing behavioral health in schools is about $4 per student.

Taken together, the new recommendations to include in the foundation formula would increase the statewide per-student figure from about $7,244 currently to $9,180.

The foundation amount drives most of the state’s distribution of education funding to counties. Then weighted categories for additional funding – to provide extra supports for students learning English, living in poverty or requiring special education – are calculated.

The workgroup is expected to take up those calculations later this fall.

Brinkley was one of the first workgroup members during a Thursday meeting in Annapolis to express concern about the effect the teacher salary recommendations could have on the foundation formula.

The increased costs to improve the teaching profession and to increase supports for students are the two largest components of the proposed increases in education spending. Increased costs for teachers could account for up to 73 percent of increased spending by 2030, based on figures used by the commission in 2019.

Brinkley said he worries that teacher salaries are a driving force in the increased spending, while overlooking other improvements to the profession – like better-prepared students through early education and other improvements to the learning environment – that “make wanting to be in the classroom something that people really want to do and don’t have to be bribed to do it.”

“Because whether you like it or not that had kind of been the conversation – that we have to pay people more to get them in the classroom,” Brinkley said. “If we have better environments, maybe that helps enhance [the profession].”

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) asked legislative staff for more information about how increased teacher salaries could affect county pension liabilities.

Former state Sen. Joan Carter Conway, a Democrat from Baltimore City, said she was interested to see how teacher salaries would drive overall state funding, but cautioned that the proposed foundation formula was being used only to test out different scenarios.

“And if the weights don’t weigh out right, you’ll know it,” she jested.

Alvin Thornton, the Prince George’s County school board president and Howard University administrator who spearheaded Maryland’s last education funding reform push in 2002, said he was pleased with the workgroup’s initial consensus on elements to add to the foundation formula – including teacher salary increases.

“There’s a common base that all of our students need that’s not differentiated by residency or demography or anything like that. I think putting well-paid teachers before our students that’s not residency or zip-code or county differentiated is absolutely essential,” Thornton said. “Nothing that we are trying to do will be accomplished ultimately without adequately well-paid, professionally respected teachers.”

The workgroup meets next on Sept. 19.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. During all of the online discussion of the Kirwin Commission, I have said the most important step to take is increasing teacher salaries dramatically. So I endorse this estimate of the cost of the proposal that follows:

    “On a per-student basis, the foundation formula would need to increase by about $680 per student for increased teacher salaries, training and the career ladder.”

    I would suggest an even higher increase:1/3 in the first year and 10% per year for a decade. My bet is that would double the cost estimate; it would still be an effective investment.

    The rest of the Kirwin Commission is icing, not cake.

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