- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 11, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | More than $3 billion in state and local spending in Maryland’s schools over the past six years has significantly cut student-achievement gaps, according to a study of the state’s Bridge to Excellence program.

The three-year study was conducted by national consulting firm MGT of America and was released Wednesday.

Overall increases to public-school spending from kindergarten through high school totaled $3.4 billion over the past six years in Maryland, including $2 billion in increased state spending, said Jerry Ciesla, a senior partner with the company. He said $1.3 billion came from increases in local funding.

“The feds kind of let down people,” he said. “Their increase over this last six years was only one-tenth of a billion dollars, so if the schools didn’t have this increase from the state — from the locals - their funding would have been pitiful.”

Bridge to Excellence was approved by the General Assembly in 2002. The law put into effect many of the recommendations of the Thornton Commission, which made recommendations designed to enhance public school funding, performance and equity.

The study found progress in efforts to meet proficiency standards by 2014 under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Gaps were closed by 51 percent in reading and 49 percent in math for students in grades three through five. Gaps were narrowed by 36 percent in reading and 39 percent in math for students in grades six through eight.

The study was released the same day Education Week ranked Maryland the best and Virginia fourth in the country in overall educational quality. Massachusetts was ranked second and New York was ranked third.

The report measured state education in several categories, including academic achievement, school finance, assessments and accountability.

The study found that all racial and ethnic groups of elementary- and middle-school students improved their reading and mathematics proficiency levels on the assessments required under the federal law.

However, Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, said the state likely will be forced to reduce spending plans for the state’s Geographic Cost of Education Index, which helps areas in the state where education costs more.

Maryland faces a projected $1.9 billion deficit for the fiscal 2010 budget, which Mr. O’Malley will submit later this month.

Schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said she was worried about what the next year will bring for education funding.

“If we have that reduced funding, how can we demand more accountability?” she said. “That’s what makes a difference.”

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