Valuable Lessons from Baltimore City Schools

In 2007, Baltimore City Public Schools implemented a bold plan. With the school system struggling, Superintendent Andrés Alonso proposed Fair Student Funding (FSF) and other reforms. His goal was to empower school leaders and create accountability for student learning. In just one year, the district implemented FSF for all schools. This meant allocating dollars (instead of staff) to schools based on their student population and school needs. The district also closed lower performing schools and reorganized and downsized the central office.

Five years after the reform was proposed, ERS, with funding from the Carnegie Corporation of New York, set out to understand whether the district met its goals and what other districts might learn from this experience. Among the many successes, we learned that the district succeeded in creating a more equitable distribution of dollars across schools and was able to move a significant amount of dollars from the central office to school level control. For all the details, read our paper “Fair Student Funding and Other Reforms: Baltimore’s Plan for Equity, Empowerment, Accountability and Improvement.” The paper explores the successes, the lessons and notes that implementing FSF is an ongoing process that requires time to develop the necessary support structure for schools and to renegotiate employee contracts. FSF cannot be a standalone initiative. Instead, as Baltimore models, it should be a key component of a larger coherent district strategy.

Any district considering the move to FSF will want to review the insights from Baltimore's experience, and this new ERS publication is a good place to start.