Recent talk about cutting education by 5 percent, including The Sun's editorial, "Easy choices and hard ones for Md.'s budget gap" (Dec. 5), ignores several key factors. One, in the last several very difficult budget years, education has not been held harmless, as the editorial states. The increases in state education spending mandated by the Thornton law were reduced by half a billion dollars each year, starting in 2007. This and several other changes deprive Baltimore City schools of $71 million each year, money that was intended to help the state's most vulnerable children.
Second, the impact of a 5 percent cut would be huge — about $250 million across the state and a reduction of nearly $45 million for Baltimore schools. What would that mean? A cut of that size translates to three teachers at your neighborhood K-8 school, five teachers at a high school. Spending at school headquarters on North Avenue has already been chopped in previous years, leaving no sizable cut to make that won't deprive children of teachers and services.
Third, an across-the-board funding cut, which does not take into account a school system's or county's poverty or wealth, is unfair. That's why the recent recommendations from the state commission on pensions advised that any shift of teacher pension costs should be "wealth-equalized," that is, schools in the poorest counties that rely heavily on state aid would receive a smaller cut than a more wealthy county.
If both a 5 percent across-the-board cut and a shift of teacher pensions were implemented, the total would be a $500 million cut from education (in addition to the $500 million already taken annually since 2007). That indeed would be catastrophic. The single affirmative direction in the Maryland Constitution is that the state must provide an adequate education to its children.
Yes, these are hard times. Yes, difficult decisions must be made. But thoughtful groups have proposed measured alternatives and revenue options to address the budget deficit. What should not be on the table is depriving our most at-risk children of an education — key to their ability to have successful lives, get jobs, pay taxes and support our economy.
Bebe Verdery, Baltimore
The writer is director of the ACLU's Education Reform Project.