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A Crazy Idea for Baltimore Public Schools

August 8, 2012

Every time I take notice of how disproportionately black, poor and low-income Baltimore City Public Schools students are, I’m reminded of how the middle class has divested itself from public education. It’s widely accepted that a school’s socioeconomic composition impacts student performance; with a school system as poor as BCPSS, current and historical educational outcomes should be unsurprising.

What’s surprising is how we’ve encouraged well-meaning families to continue to divest from public education, through measures such as school vouchers and charter schools and even subsidizing poor families to move out of school districts.

Even if you support these measures, wouldn’t you need to eventually incentivize families to opt back in to public schools? Compulsory education isn’t exactly like the free market, particularly as school systems such as BCPSS are expected to perform as effectively as affluent school districts and high-performing charters while almost exclusively serving high needs students.

Wouldn’t it make sense to incentivize middle class families to invest back into BCPSS? What if, for example, the state of Maryland offered a yearly tax break of $1350–for say, up to four years–to families with school-aged children educated outside of the public school system to return to BCPSS? This incentive would also be available to encourage parents with school-aged children to move into Baltimore and enroll their children in BCPSS.

I’ve not thought this through enough to see how it would work mechanically or how to finance tax breaks, but the state is already funding the majority of Baltimore’s public school expenses and over the long run, diversifying the socioeconomic composition of BCPSS would conceivably lower expenses and improve educational outcomes.

Just a (admittedly crazy) thought.

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2 Comments
  1. I’d like to see this happen. My questions (as BCPSS alum and possible BCPSS mom of the future) follow:
    1) If families live outside of the city, could that tax break help them to return and pay Baltimore’s higher tax rates?, and
    2) Would the city invest in better transportation options, security in the schools, cleaning up the areas around the schools? (I understand that many of them already provide their own transportation to their kids headed to private schools, but reliable transportation could be an incentive on its own.)
    A tax break is a good start. I hope the education quality will be incentive enough one day.

    • Ang- I’d want the tax break to be available to entice families living outside of the city to become city residents and enroll their kids into BCPSS. The break can be used for property taxes or whatever else a family wants to use it for. Families with children in parochial and private school would also be eligible for the tax break. When you have a school system that’s 90 percent black and poor, unfortunately there’s a lack of political will from leaders to “invest in better transportation options, security in the schools, cleaning up the areas around the schools.” If BCPSS’s economic and racial composition more closely resembled the city overall, I think you’d see increased outcomes and meaningful investment over the long run.

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