How Schools Spend What They Have: Comparing the Budgets of PGCPS and Neighboring School Systems

by T. Carter Ross

When it comes to school spending, many people would agree that there is a need to increase funding for teachers, programs, and activities that have a direct influence on students. But how to achieve that is the difficult part.

To get an idea of exactly what Prince George’s County Public Schools spends and where, it is worth comparing how our school system allocates its funding versus other area school systems. Not that other systems are inherently better at how they spend money, but it is a way to benchmark and to look for ideas and opportunities.

PGCPS is the 21st largest school system in the nation (2014 data from the National Center for Education Statistics). It’s the second largest school system in Maryland and the third largest in the D.C.–Maryland–Virginia region. Montgomery County Public Schools is the largest school system Maryland and the 17th largest in the nation. Fairfax County Public Schools is the largest in the region and the 11th largest in the nation.

Because the Maryland State Department of Education requires county school systems to organize their operating budgets into standardized categories, it is relatively simple to compare how MCPS and PGCPS allocate their funds. (Adding FCPS to the comparison is more difficult because its budget does not detail spending in the same manner.) This comparison does not include the separate capital improvement budget each school system compiles annually.

Approved FY2019 Budget MCPS PGCPS difference
Administration $52,513,673 $71,750,345 $19,236,672
Mid-Level Administration $150,805,386 $129,343,441 $(21,461,945)
Instructional Salaries $1,020,207,902 $709,270,428 $(310,937,474)
Textbooks & Supplies $29,064,773 $18,237,720 $(10,827,053)
Other Instructional Costs $17,237,407 $83,104,311 $65,866,904
Special Education $346,234,807 $279,824,683 $(66,410,124)
Student Personnel Services $12,903,312 $22,612,038 $9,708,726
Health Services $1,590 $20,374,722 $20,373,132
Student Transportation $109,325,393 $107,688,015 $(1,637,378)
Operation of Plant & Equipment $140,888,137 $132,297,375 $(8,590,762)
Maintenance of Plant $38,122,427 $40,699,436 $2,577,009
Fixed Charges $609,638,690 $423,611,677 $(186,027,013)
Community Services $865,163 $3,300,272 $2,435,109

Both school systems also have additional expenses in their operating budget that fall outside of the MSDE categories.

Approved FY 2019 Budget MCPS PGCPS difference
MCSPS Television Special Rev. Fund $1,789,941 $0 $(1,789,941)
Real Estate Fund $3,952,935 $0 $(3,952,935)
Food Service Fund $56,219,199 $5,365,537 $(50,853,662)
Field Trip Fund $2,530,246 $0 $(2,530,246)
Entrepreneurial Activities $4,140,738 $0 $(4,140,738)
Capital Outlay $0 $250,000 $250,000

Adding up both sections of the budget shows that MCPS’s approved FY2019 budget total was $2,596,441,719, which is $548,711,719 more than PGCPS’s $2,047,730,000 approved budget FY2019. By comparison, across the river in Virginia, Fairfax County Public Schools’ FY2019 budget was $2,871,900,000. Using 2018 attendance numbers from the Washington Area Boards of Education guide, PGCPS spends about $15,652.51 per student compared to $16,328.80 at MCPS and $15,318.11 at FCPS.

Looking specifically at administrative costs, PGCPS spends about $19 million more than MCPS on Administration, but when Mid-Level Administration (which includes school-level administrators such as principals) is added in, MCPS actually spends $2.25 million more on administrative activities than PGCPS. In terms of the total budget, PGCPS has allocated 9.82% of its FY2019 budget to administration compared to 7.83% in MCPS. Looking beyond these two area school systems, Howard County Public School System allocates 9.01% to administration in FY2019; Anne Arundel Public Schools allocates 9.47%; and Charles County Public Schools allocates 8.81%.

Within the Administration category is the cost of the Board of Education itself, which is $4.2 million for PGCPS. MCPS’s budget allocates half that amount, $2.1 million, for its Board of Education. It’s not clear if board member salaries are paid through the MCPS budget, however.

Looking at what each school systems spends on classroom activities (the Instructional Salaries, Textbooks & Supplies, and Other Instruction Costs categories), MCPS spends nearly $256 million more than PGCPS. These there categories add up to 39.59% of PGCPS’s total budget allocations versus 41.08% of MPCPS’s. At HCPSS these allocations make up 42.88% of the budget; in AACPS, 41.66%; and in CCPS, 36.24%.

Although PGCPS spends $66.4 million less than MCPS on Special Education services, both school systems are spending comparable percentages of their total budget (13.67% for PGCPS vs. 13.33% for MPCS) on Special Education. Similarly, Student Transportation allocations are $1.6 million less in PGCPS, but it makes up 5.26% of the total budget compared to 4.21% in MCPS.

One major difference in spending, even though the total amount is relatively low, is in Health Services. PGCPS spends nearly $20.4 million more than MCPS in this category. Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services, School Health Services (SHS) division, works with MCPS to provide in-school health services instead of funding them directly through the school system. Looking at the FY2019 Montgomery County operating budget, SHS is allocated $28,637,867, which is more than $8 million more than PGCPS allocates to Health Services.

Prince George’s County’s Health Department does not appear to provide the same sort of direct services within PGCPS schools. It’s worth noting, however, that Montgomery County has approved $319.23 million for its Department of Health and Human Services in FY2019 compared to a combined $112.26 million for the Prince George’s County Department of Family Services, Health Department, and Department of Social Services. (There may be services and functions that Montgomery County includes under Health and Human Services that Prince George’s County houses elsewhere in its operating budget, which would impact this comparison.)

While there are many reasons for the differences in how each school system spends its budget — the biggest one being each county’s tax base and the amount of funding available — looking at the numbers it doesn’t seem that PGPS is too different from other area school systems how it allocates funds, nor that significant gains in direct student services can be found by focusing on cuts to the central office alone.

FY2019 School Budget Sources:

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