Commentary

“Money Following the Child” Working in Baltimore

Today’s Education Week reports good news from Baltimore’s student-based budgeting efforts. Baltimore’s Superintendent Alonso has one of the most aggressive student-based budgeting programs in the nation with close to 90 percent of resources going to principals to control through the school budget. Check out this great story about how student-based budgeting is changing the behavior of school leaders. Baltimore demonstrates how student-based budgeting can introduce real competition into public schools when the money is attached to the backs of children.

The Baltimore schools are seeing steady progress in student achievement and recently were released from ‘corrective action’ status by the state.

Two years ago, only 150 students attended Holabird Elementary, then a K-5 school in the southeastern corner of this city. Competition from charters and from regular public schools in nearby Baltimore County had drained families from Holabird, a chronic underperformer.

So when Andrés A. Alonso, the chief executive officer of the Baltimore city schools, began last year to allocate money to schools based on their students’ needs, Holabird stood to be hit hard. Achievement had started to rise, but its small roster put the school at risk of losing six teachers unless more students enrolled.

Principal Lindsay Krey, about to start her second year as the leader of the school, decided to knock on some doors.

“We were worried about how much we could lose, but it became a rallying point for our staff and our parents,” says Ms. Krey, now in her third year at Holabird. “We were starting to see some real progress, so our parents went door to door to tell others what was happening.”

Students in grades 3-8 in Baltimore have been making steady gains on the Maryland School Assessment.

Percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in reading:

Percent of students scoring proficient or advanced in math:

Superintendent Alonso has made rapid changes to the Baltimore school district:

Given broad latitude by the appointed school board members who hired him, Mr. Alonso has replaced roughly 40 percent of the city’s principals, eliminated more than 450 positions in the central office, shut down or overhauled failing schools, and opened a variety of schools designed to serve children at risk of dropping out.

I profile Baltimore’s student-based budgeting system in the 2009 Weighted Student Formula Yearbook here.

Lisa Snell is the director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Snell has frequently testified before the California State Legislature and numerous other state legislatures and government agencies. She has authored policy studies on school finance and weighted student funding, universal preschool, school violence, charter schools, and child advocacy centers.

Snell is a frequent contributor to Reason magazine, School Reform News and Privatization Watch. Her writing has also appeared in Education Week, Edutopia, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, San Francisco Chronicle, Orange County Register, Los Angeles Times, and numerous other publications.

Ms. Snell is also an advisory board member to the National Quality Improvement Center for the Children's Bureau; is on the charter school accreditation team for the American Academy for Liberal Education; and serves as a board member for the California Virtual Academy.

Before joining Reason Foundation, Snell taught public speaking and argumentation courses at California State University, Fullerton. She earned a Master of Arts in communication from California State University, Fullerton.