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May 25, 2004

Who Will Benefit from Thornton Funding?

John P. Snyder

For years, liberals have resisted any attempts at education reforms, preferring to operate under the assumption that throwing money at the problem will increase the quality of public education. The non-partisan Maryland Public Policy Institute recently released its report that suggests until Maryland parents receive more choices, the money will not improve anything but teacher salaries.

In the early months of the 2002 election year, most reasonable people looked at the findings of the Thornton commission as interesting, but simply unaffordable. It was resurrected midway during the legislative session as legacy-seeking incumbents were looking for an issue to win their re-election.

The Thornton Commission sought parity in school funding, using the word adequacy to insure "a specific amount of inputs to accomplish a set of positive outcomes". State funding of schools would go from 41% to 49%. Money would be channeled to "poorer school systems.

Policymakers have focused on smaller class sizes, increased teacher pay and higher per pupil spending.

In Maryland per pupil spending has risen - adjusted for inflation. - roughly 88% in the last thirty years. It now averages $8500 per student. The National Educational Assessment of Progress Institute has shown that students have not progressed academically since 1970.

Similarly, spending equalization plans throughout the country, while well intentioned, have had little success.

The authors of the report suggest that if policymakers are interesting in improving the educational possibilities for poorer students, there are other paths to take. Their suggested paths have taken root in other states. In Maryland they have encountered strong resistance. They propose competition in the educational marketplace.

It has shown benefits everywhere it has been tried. They use research findings to buttress their claims.

School choice, charter schools and vouchers have benefited the poorer disadvantaged students in other states.

The horse has long been out of the barn regarding Thornton funding. Tell the truth about it and you'll find yourself taking fire from all sides. The fact that all of this increased spending in unlikely to improve the educational outcomes of disadvantaged students will make the struggle to pay for it even more painful.

It's no secret that the Maryland State Teachers Association is a part owner of the Maryland State Democratic Party. They have veto power over any school reform proposals. There may be a day when everyone recognizes that throwing money at the problem solves nothing.

Clearly, in Maryland, that day will come later than everyplace else.

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