A recent article in the Baltimore Sun, Small schools, high salaries behind district’s budget gap, pointed to higher costs of small schools and relatively higher costs of salaries for teachers in the district as the cause of the budget cuts and layoffs at Baltimore City Public Schools. This analysis demonstrates three major errors in how we develop school budgets.
First, we only calculate the cost side of the budget sheet. In pointing out the slightly higher costs of small schools, the benefits of the close-knit school, high attendance rates and few suspensions are mentioned, but they are not assigned a value on the other side of the ledger. If we don’t value high attendance and good school culture, what is it that we do value? This cost-only accounting pervades our educational decisions, shuttering schools and programs that have real value for students and their success.
Second, comparing urban school district to suburban districts ignores the stark differences in their challenges. This false comparison is invoked to justify giving urban districts fewer dollars than they need to help their students to succeed. Can we sit every child in Maryland in a desk in a classroom for about the same price? Sure. But if we want our children in impoverished, highly segregated and unequal schools to achieve at levels we expect at suburban schools, we need different strategies and different budgets.
Third, we produce budgets that are unattached to goals. A budget should be more than an apportionment of funds. It should be an allocation of funds to achieve meaningful social goals. If we want to escape our legacy of failures in urban education, we have to invest in helping students escape the legacy of poverty and segregation. We need to throw out the flawed accounting that perpetuates failure and invest in the education our children deserve. The waste in urban education is not small schools or teacher salaries. It’s that too many of our children are not prepared to reach their full potentials.
Students and teachers are working heroically to beat the odds against our streets. Is it too much to ask that we invest in them with the same eagerness that we invest in hotels, stadiums and development projects? This is the investment that will signal the comeback for Baltimore.