From Harford County Education Association President Ryan Burbey:
For the past several years the school budget and school funding have been the source of public debate. School funding in Harford County has reached a crisis point but this crisis did not happen overnight. Harford County has a deplorable history of under-funding its schools. Despite considerable wealth and economic growth over the years, Harford County Government has not increased school funding appreciably. From 2002 through 2005, HCPS was the lowest funded school system in the state of Maryland based on per pupil expenditure. During this time, it was ranked 24th out of 23 counties plus Baltimore City in its support for its schools. In speaking with former HCPS Superintendent, Jackie Haas, about gifted and talented services; she told me that there were many program enhancements that she wanted to make and had planned but simply could not move forward without increased funding.
In 2006, HCPS was ranked 23rd in school funding. In 2007, it climbed to 15th but has been on a steady decline since. In 2010, HCPS was ranked 18th in per pupil funding while in 2011 and 2012, it was ranked 16th and 17th respectively. These facts are available within the MSDE Fact Book and The Overview of Maryland Local Governments.
This would not be a problem if Harford County were ranked in the lower quartile for wealth, as state education aid would increase. The state school funding formula for determining state education aid is dependent on wealth. Unfortunately, Harford County does not rank near the bottom of the state for wealth. Conversely, it ranks near the top. Harford County currently ranks 7th in per capita income, 8th in median household income and 7th in total personal income.
Similarly, Harford has climbed from the 64th richest county in the USA to the 42nd richest, as of 2011. That’s right little ole’ Harford County has the 42nd highest income in the entire country.
Between 2006 and 2013 Harford County’s wealth per pupil climbed from being ranked 13th to 11th. This climb in ranking is the result of an overall increase in measured wealth by over 60%. During this same time period, local school funding by percent of budget, the money Harford County Government contributes to our schools, has declined by 8.2%. This means that while more money is flowing into county coffers, less is being directed towards educating our children, the primary purpose for the enactment of real estate taxes. We, the citizens of Harford County, should demand that our County Government fund our schools appropriately as compared to the relative wealth in our county.
Recently, the Craig Administration, represented by Human Resources Director, Scott T. Gibson, compared Harford County to Frederick County at a Board of Education meeting. Initially, I found these comparisons rather off-putting and irrelevant but upon further research I did find some interesting corollaries. Unlike Harford County, in Frederick, the percentage of the county budget dedicated to schools has not precipitously fallen below 50% of County revenues. In fact until recently, Frederick County allocated over 50% of their county budget to public schools. In 2013, 50% of Frederick County revenues went to the schools. While a difference of 2% might not see much, in Harford County, that represents almost $10,000,000 in additional funds for schools this year alone. Similarly, Frederick’s wealth per pupil has not risen by over 60% in the past seven years. Since Frederick has consistently funded their schools, as compared to their relative wealth, they also are not currently losing over 4 million dollars in state aid for education.
The Craig Administration has done a consistently good job bringing employers to the county, as well as, building wealth, increasing fund balances, and maintaining a high bond rating; even in a time of recession. Unfortunately, they have also done a consistently horrible job of funding our schools. Funding public education should not be fodder for political manipulations and wrangling. Educating our children should be our county’s top priority. Education should be funded at a level, which allows our schools to provide the best possible education to our students. Harford County Public Schools needs proper funding to become the best school system in Maryland. Help fight for our schools. Come to the County Executive’s Budget Hearing Monday February 11, 2013 6PM at Aberdeen High School. Tell County Executive Craig our children and schools deserve to be Harford County’s top priority.