Arnold Kling reviews recent rounds of political hardball in Montgomery County, including the ouster of officials who had been at odds with the teachers’ and other unions. As for the vaunted quality of public services, it’s not all it might be:
An increasing share of that budget is going to pensions and non-teaching staff who are union members. Actual classroom teachers are badly over-worked.
Because spending per student is by far the highest in the state, the WaPo constantly refers to Montgomery County as a high quality school system. However, the average outcomes in the County schools are mediocre. Students from the wealthiest parts of the County (three high schools in particular) produce good test scores, and the rest do not. Other school districts in Maryland get similar outcomes with students of similar backgrounds while spending much less money per student.
Maryland remains at its fourth-from-worst position of #46 in this new report ranking freedom in the 50 states by the Cato Institute, with which I’m affiliated. “Occupational freedom is extremely low, for health professions and for others….Educational freedom is among the lowest in the country. Homeschools and private schools are tightly regulated, the latter more so (mandatory state approval and teacher licensing).” While scoring average on taxes and criminal justice, our state, long known as the Free State, is worse than average on business subsidies, land-use control, and firearms unfreedom. We are 49th (next to worst!) on regulation, occupational, and land use freedom and least free of all 50 on education.
Adjacent states are ahead of us: Virginia at # 21, Pennsylvania #26, Delaware # 31, and West Virginia at # 39.
Most of these problems cannot be fixed without electing a better legislature in Annapolis.
I wish we had a civil liberties group in Maryland that focused on civil liberties, rather than going to bat for the legislative agenda of the teachers’ union.
Good for Comptroller Peter Franchot: if the school systems are trying to wriggle out of budget oversight, it’s time to make that oversight stronger, not weaker. Note that it was Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban, “who also serves as president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland,” who sent the letter to Mike Miller and Mike Busch asking them to limit the power of the Board of Public Works to check and balance the demands of the school construction lobby. More: Frederick News-Post.
To reduce stigma, or so it’s said, Maryland will serve free school breakfast, lunch, and summer meals to more kids whether they’re poor or not [Rebecca Lessner/Maryland Reporter, earlier] Gov. Hogan has signed the Hunger Free Schools Act, a bill sponsored by Sen. Rich Madaleno (D-Kensington) that seemed to enjoy near-universal support in Annapolis; leveraging more federal money may have had something to do with that. Pushing for the measure was an outfit called Maryland Hunger Solutions.
I can’t go along with blogger Tom Coale of HoCo Rising, who seems to see it as a positive indicator for a county to have moved more of its less affluent families away from home meals with family and into government feeding options. Under his analysis, counties like Howard and Frederick with low breakfast participation rates come off as laggards, drawing attention away from the possibility that they should actually be counted as successes: their less affluent families, for what may turn out to be admirable reasons, succeed better at feeding their kids at home.
The Frederick News-Post this week ran my letter to the editor on the interaction between our county education budget and the state’s crazy, spending-ratchet Maintenance of Effort law. It begins:
County Executive Jan Gardner has proposed a schools budget more than $4 million above maintenance of effort levels. The key thing to remember about Maryland’s crazy MOE law is this: Once a county spends more than MOE in one year, it’s permanently raised the base. It’s not supposed to go back to spending less the next year even if its priorities change or it decides the added spending didn’t achieve the intended result. That means that more likely than not, the council is debating a permanent hike of more than $4 million that, ratchet-like, will be hard to reconsider later….
I go on to discuss the (far from robust) provision by which counties can ask for waivers, and raise a question I’m not sure the architects of the MOE (who wanted to insulate school spending from the democratic process) considered: what happens when the voting public realizes that spending increases operate as a permanent entitlement rather than an experiment with a plausible path of retreat? It could be, at least for counties with a vigorous pro-taxpayer streak in their electorate, that the equilibrium will be for voters to support less school spending than they would have been willing to try otherwise.