Baltimore City Schools: A Case Study in Funding

Chairs, Red and Black Ink LLC. 2017.

School systems across the country are dealing with the challenges of falling revenues and tightening budgets.  The challenges can especially be felt in urban areas where large amounts of people stay and where the public schools are open to everyone, regardless of their family's income status or circumstances.  Schools systems from Oregon to New York are dealing with the challenges of falling revenue, increasing costs and the need to stay competitive in a 21st century economy.

Baltimore recently announced a budget shortfall for the upcoming 2017 - 2018 school year.  The $130 million gap represented a significant shortfall for one year, but the governor, mayor and citizens are working to address the gap with additional funds over the next three years that won't cover everything, but will be a drastic improvement to the current situation.

State Funding Formulas

At least 48 states utilize formulas to try to equitably distribute funds to schools systems throughout their state.

In Maryland, a (minimum) fundamental amount is set forth for each eligible student.  This amount is then adjusted for inflation every year, however, in 2009 the state eliminated the adjustments for inflation due to the recession.

The fundamental amount for each student was $6,860 in fiscal year 2015.

  • This fundamental, per-student amount is multiplied by the total number of students to come up with a basic total program amount.
  • This total amount is then adjusted for geographical costs (with slightly more money being given to areas where running a school results in higher costs—energy, salary costs, etc.).  This additional money comes from the state.
  • Maryland also adjusts funding for schools based on an area's local ability to generate tax funds from its residents.  Areas with larger wealth generation get slightly less funding from the state, while areas with less wealth generating ability get slightly more.  
  • Maryland also funds several education-related programs for Compensatory Education (students who qualify for Federal free and/or reduced-lunch), Limited English Proficient and Special Education—as these students may require additional resources to support their education.

Student transportation and other education grants are also included in funding.  

Once a school district receives its budget from state and local (and some federal) sources, it then turns around and allocates budgets to the schools under its authority; including charter and traditional schools--because charter schools are public schools.

Maryland commissioned a report to study the adequacy of funding for education in the state entitled, "Final Report of the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in Maryland", done by an independent consulting firm.  The report, which was issued in late 2016, recommended millions of more dollars per year for Baltimore City Schools alone and adjustments in the fundamental amounts allocated for each student in the state. 

The state is now studying these recommendations along with federal and state education laws, in order to make additional recommendations under the hope that perhaps new legislation can be introduced, based on these findings, in January of 2018.

Baltimore City Public Schools, given its shortfall in funding and budget needs, has asked for support over the next three fiscal years, while the General Assembly works to enact a new funding formula or laws.

How Did They Get Here?

Baltimore City Public Schools announced the $130 million budget deficit for the upcoming 2017 - 2018 school year, last fall.  The drivers behind the deficit were declining enrollment and a per-student fundamental amount that hasn’t kept up with inflation, among other very important factors (such as smaller schools which are costlier to operate, needed and already existing commitments to renovate schools, etc.)

When a school system experiences students leaving its district, it often also experiences a loss in revenue because its per student allotment goes down.  Even if students go to nearby private schools, the money allotted for those students goes with them.  Thus a school is forced to operate with less funding and it can’t simply wipe away all of its costs (i.e., energy, staff, resources, etc.) by the same amount that is loses.

In urban areas, many schools have higher amounts of students who require reduced or free lunch or students who have special education needs.  The cost of heating a school...providing lunch...performing maintenance or teachers' salaries continue to go up each year. 

In addition public schools take in all students—students who might be suffering from homelessness, students with special needs, students who might be immigrants or migrant workers, etc.

These challenges are not going anywhere, anytime soon.  Given the fact, also, that some states have tried cost cutting and budget cutting measures that affect school funding, these problems are further exacerbated. 

This makes it difficult for schools if they have to deal with uncertain funding, year-after-year.

This is something that we have to deal with, as a country, because another economic downturn or efforts to cut funding for education could have serious consequences for students who are already experiencing challenges to learning in their school.

Copyright, Red and Black Ink, LLC, 2017.


Baltimore City Public Schools, Your Voice: Budget.  Accessed April 6, 2017.

"Final Report of the Study of Adequacy of Funding for Education in Maryland". Prepared forMaryland State Department of Education By APA Consulting, November 30, 2016

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Available  HERE  and on  Amazon .

Available HERE and on Amazon.

Danita Smith