The Maryland State Department of Education earned a grade of C- for spending transparency, according to a new survey of publicly available data on state education department websites.
In “Cracking the Books: How Well do State Education Departments Report Public School Spending,” the CATO Institute examined the spending data made available by the education departments of all 50 states.
Despite being the largest line item in state and local budgets and seeing massive spending growth, the public underestimates the real cost of public education the report states.
Contrasting public opinion in Maryland with the actual expenditure data confirms CATO’s premise.
Last March, a Washington Post poll found that 49 percent of Marylanders thought Governor Martin O’Malley was doing a “Not good/Poor” job funding state schools, only 42 percent rated him as Good/Excellent. A November 2012 Goucher College poll reported that 65 percent of Marylanders believe the state spends too little on education.
Total education spending in Maryland reached $12 billion in 2011 (the latest year data is available). In 2011, per-pupil spending exceeded $13,000. The state spent $5.2 billion; local governments provided $5.4 billion; and the federal government $1.2 billion.
K-12 education spending, the largest line item in Maryland’s budget, has increased 97 percent--$2.8 billion between 2002-2011.
The dramatic rise is due to mandated spending increases in the Bridge to Excellence or Thornton law enacted by the General Assembly in 2002. The Thornton mandates were approved without a funding source, and are the largest drivers of the state’s chronic structural deficits.
The ostensible purpose of Thornton was to eliminate educational disparities between wealthy white students and their poor, minority counterparts. However, over the same period of time, test score data shows those disparities have increased.
In CATO’s rankings Maryland scored a 72.50 out of a possible 100 points.
Here’s how the state fared on CATO’s individual metrics for spending transparency
Per-Pupil Expenditures 33.5/45
Total Expenditures 26/30
Average Salary Data 0/10
Public Accessibility 3/5
Ease of Public Analysis 10/10
CATO reported that the Maryland State Department of Education provides 10 years of Selected Financial Reports, and allows viewers to compare changes over time in per-pupil expenditures. The figures however, are not adjusted for inflation. Total expenditure data on the MSDE website also includes line items on pension, capital spending.
MSDE does not provide salary data.
CATO reported that the MSDE website is “somewhat difficult for a lay person to navigate,” and lacks easy to find links to school finance data or reports. The expenditure data is tucked away under the “News Room” menu. However, once you find the data the site provides it both Excel spreadsheet and PDF formats.