The following letter was sent from Harford County Education Association (HCEA) President Ryan Burbey to Harford County Executive David Craig, Harford County Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Canavan, and all members of the Harford County Council and Harford County Board of Education. A copy was provided to The Dagger for publication:
Dear County Executive Craig,
After reviewing your budget in brief and associated comments, I find myself once again obliged to respond. You cite several statistics to justify your lack of commitment to our public schools. You state that Harford County ranked 13th in local funding to public education. This is true but Harford County also ranked 12th in wealth per pupil. If our local funding was raised sufficiently to rank 12th to match our wealth per pupil that would result in an increase of over $250 per pupil, which equates to approximately $9.5 million of additional education funding. When the rankings for school expenditures and wealth are examined closely, your lack of commitment to education is even more apparent. In fact, Charles County, ranks 15th in per pupil wealth, yet out spends Harford County by $258 per pupil. Citing these rankings as justification for your administration’s perpetual underfunding of our schools highlights your fundamental disregard or misunderstanding of the state formula for school funding.
State funding for education is driven by an inverse wealth formula. The higher your county’s wealth per pupil the lower the state funding. This formula is predicated by the idea that counties with more means must accept more responsibility for funding their own schools. Between FY 2006 and FY 2015, Harford County’s wealth per pupil increased by 68%. This year alone Harford County’s wealth per pupil increased by 2.1%1. The multitude of public and private construction projects which you have championed all count toward the per pupil wealth calculation. Likewise, the tax increment financing projects, which you openly praise as smart policy, count towards our wealth per pupil calculation, despite netting zero additional general fund revenue to date. As our measured wealth has grown Harford County has been expected to accept more responsibility for the cost of educating our children. Unfortunately, local school funding by percent of budget, has declined during this same time frame.
Funding provided to HCPS by the state of Maryland has varied slightly from year to year, with last year being the most extreme reduction to date. So, it is true that Harford County contributed more last year as you cite. However, historically the state of Maryland has contributed more to the education of Harford County’s children than Harford County Government. In FY 2013, the state of Maryland contributed 49.2% compared to Harford County’s total contribution of 46.4%. In fact, during 8 out of the past 10 years the state of MD has contributed more towards public education in Harford County than Harford County government .
Really this is not about statistics. It is about children, teachers and our community. At a time when virtually every other county in the state is investing in their schools, Harford County, under your leadership, is not even keeping pace with inflation. During your tenure as county executive, teachers’ salaries have plummeted in comparison to their colleagues around the state. Likewise, materials of instruction, supplemental resources and professional development opportunities have become sparse. Over and over the Harford County Board of Education has submitted a budget, which you have refused to even come close to funding. Under the austerity brought on by your failure to meet the board of education’s funding requests, our students lack the technology and 21stcentury opportunities, which other counties willingly provide.
You can tout the schools which have been built. You can blame the state. You can vilify me, our teachers and other voices of opposition. You can say that education is a priority for your administration. However, your words ring hollow. True leaders accept responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and actions. The truth is that year after year the funding provided by your administration lags woefully behind what is needed to provide a quality education for our students. Make no mistake; when the cuts come, when class sizes rise, when students, as well as, parents wonder why their favorite teachers have left Harford County and when overall achievement falters, falling behind neighboring counties; the responsibility will lie squarely upon your shoulders.