By Len Lazarick

For the fourth year in a row, Maryland public schools have come out on top on the annual state-by-state report card published by Education Week magazine.

Maryland earned its top place with an overall B+ grade, compared to a C average for the nation as whole.

Maryland public schools again did not place first on the measure of student achievement. This year, it came in third place after Massachusetts and New Jersey with a score of 83.9 — two points below Massachusetts. Student performance only counts for one sixth of the grade on the Education Week report card.

But Maryland students still ranked ahead of their peers in 47 other states. The state earned its highest score on how its policies align to advance students in their education. Maryland also leads the pack on social and economic factors, how teachers are treated and the amount of money spent on schools. These factors, plus student achievement, are weighted equally to determine the final ranking.

Maryland’s #1 position on the Education Week report card is part of the constant mantra from state officials — from the governor on down — to justify $6 billion in annual education funding. The ranking was invoked many times as the General Assembly prepared to convene this week.

Maintaining school funding

The public school rankings will also be used as a strong argument to maintain the state’s support of K-12 schools and force county governments to provide increasing amounts of aid to local schools — called maintenance of effort. In the face of declining revenues, some counties have reduced their public school funding.

The state’s teachers union, Maryland State Education Association, and Maryland Association of Boards of Education are banding together this year to reinforce the maintenance-of-effort requirements that were reduced in last year’s budget.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, Senate President Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael Busch have all supported requiring counties to keep up their school funding efforts in recent days.

“You’re slipping on maintenance of effort,” Miller told a meeting of the Maryland Association of Counties last week.