Allocation of funds for poor students questioned

Study tracks use of Thornton money

February 13, 2007|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,Sun reporter

Alvin Thornton, who headed Maryland's commission on quality education, said a new study questioning how school districts have spent money allocated to help students in poverty should spark a review of how the landmark education funding formula bearing his name is administered.

The report, released yesterday by Advocates for Children and Youth, concludes that $500 million designed to help poor students is instead being funneled into general improvements.

The report examined the school budgets of Baltimore City and Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George's and Washington counties. It found they were collectively spending less on targeted interventions for students in poverty than they were before the Thornton money was approved.

ACY is advocating for legislators to include language in this year's budget requiring that the at-risk money be spent on targeted interventions for students in poverty.

The group also wants school districts to report on their expenditures and for an independent entity, such as the comptroller or the Department of Legislative Services, to verify those reports.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick and other state and local education officials say the ACY report underestimates the importance of systemic improvements, such as higher teacher salaries. Local districts have also questioned whether the ACY report accurately reflects all of their efforts for at-risk students.

Thornton said he thinks Grasmick's argument about teacher salaries has merit. But he said measuring how effective those measures have been is difficult because the state switched the standardized tests it gives students about the same time that the state began increasing funding through what is officially known as the "Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act." When fully phased in, the program will add $1.3 billion annually to education spending.

The state also needs to scrutinize how the counties and Baltimore City have funded their school districts to make sure local investments are not dropping off as the state investments are increasing, Thornton said.

"There needs to be, I think, some type of Bridge to Excellence II process by which the legislature and the governor look exactly at how the funds have been used and how we go forward, particularly now that you have a new set of tests and new state accountability measures," Thornton said.

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