(Nov. 14, 2014) There’s more than one way to boost funding for education and there’s more than one reason to do it. But the newly formed Worcester County Education Foundation has a singular purpose: raise money to help county public school students thrive in the digital age.
Debuting Tuesday morning in the Stephen Decatur High School cafeteria before an audience of business leaders, executives and politicians, the foundation and its developers issued a plea to the private sector to join the effort to fill the gaps left by government funding.
“I’m not complaining about state aid. We’re the second lowest in the state and there are good reasons for that, but when it comes to our operating budget that’s not a place we can go to, to look for funding,” Dr. Jerry Wilson, superintendent of schools, said.
Even though Maryland public schools consistently rank at or near the top of the “best public school” lists in the country, Worcester County doesn’t have enough money to supply all students with the computer technology in general use today and then teaching them how to use it.
“When we speak of a digital conversion, we speak of replacing paper-dependent learning environments with 1:1 technology-rich environments. This supports each one of our strategic goals,” Wilson said.
The foundation’s aim is to achieve a one-to-one ratio between students and computer equipment: every elementary school student would have access to a touch-screen device, every middle school student would have a touch/type hybrid, and every high school student would have a laptop.
Otherwise, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Lou Taylor said, these students will be lost when they enter the working and higher academic worlds, where computer and digital savvy is a given.
“Students have grown up using technology and they access much of their social life through technological devices. We’re committed and we know we must teach our 21st century students to be successful in the 21st century workplace,” Wilson said.
Worcester County already spends a great deal of money on its students, but the bulk of it – more than 70 percent – comes from Worcester County government and a much smaller percentage is provided by the state. The reverse is true in a number of other counties, including Wicomico and Somerset.
That is because Worcester has a large tax base as compared to its population. But what the state funding formula does not consider is that most of the comparatively expensive residential property that generates this considerable tax base is owned by higher-earning nonresidents.
Meanwhile, the income of the average county household is much lower – 44 percent of Worcester’s public school students come from families living at or below the poverty level – rendering them incapable of absorbing a substantial increase in their county taxes. Hence the funding gap that the foundation seeks to fill.
Bolstering the requests for support by Taylor, Wilson and foundation President Todd Ferrante was the presentation of a $100,000 donation by the board of directors of the Calvin B. Taylor Bank.
That represents a tenth of the $1 million the foundation wants to raise this year. The foundation also hopes to repeat this $1 million each year over the next five years.
The idea of an education foundation is not new, as other jurisdictions have welcomed them as a means to augment public spending on schools in a tax-sensitive society. And even though the Worcester foundation went public just this week, Ferrante said he and the foundation’s other members spent a year organizing and planning its approach.
The digital upgrade is just the first of what he hopes will be many projects completed in conjunction with both public and private entities. He said there is a pathway the foundation intends to follow concerning infrastructure, training and equal access to the Internet.