Chesapeake Bay Foundation loses Md. funding for education programs

The nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation has seen state funding for its outdoor education programming dry up.

According to a statement from the foundation, this means a loss of roughly $440,000 that would have gone to environmental-education activities.

Will Baker, foundation president, told lawmakers in Annapolis Monday that he and the board were shocked by the decision from Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration to cut fiscal year 2021 funding.

“We had no notice of this. We had no discussion — nothing,” Baker said.

Delegates Jared Solomon and Ben Barnes expressed surprise at the decision at a briefing last week. Solomon called it a “glaring budget change,” and Barnes said the decision to cut the funding appeared “arbitrary and capricious.”

At Monday’s briefing before the Senate subcommittee on Education, Business and Administration, Karen Salmon, the State Superintendent of Education, was asked by Sen. Sarah Elfreth about the decision to cut the education funding for CBF.

“Do you agree with the governor’s decision to zero them out?” Elfreth, whose district includes Anne Arundel County, asked.

Salmon answered, “The governor’s budget is subject to executive privilege so I can’t comment.”

“We determined that we could reach even more Marylanders by reallocating this funding and spreading it among nonprofits that do not have the financial means of CBF,” Hogan communications director Michael Ricci wrote in an email.

Ten new groups, he said, have been added to the list of organizations that provide education programming with state funds. The following organizations are getting “new or additional funding” as a result of the administration’s decision, Ricci said:

  • Adventure Theatre
  • American Visionary Art Museum
  • Audubon Naturalist Society
  • Baltimore Center Stage
  • Baltimore Museum of Art
  • Chesapeake Bay Environmental Center
  • Chesapeake Shakespeare Company
  • Fire Museum of Maryland
  • Greater Baltimore Urban League
  • Historic London Town & Gardens
  • Irvine Nature Center
  • KID Museum
  • Round House Theater
  • Salisbury Zoological Park
  • Sotterley Foundation

According to the foundation’s own annual report — for the fiscal year ending in 2019 — the nonprofit had $32,489,077 in revenue, with 3% of that coming from education contracts and tuition. The same document shows 79% of foundation revenue goes toward program services, 13% goes to fundraising and 8% to general and administrative costs.

Shari Yesnick, a science teacher at John Poole Middle School in Montgomery County, told lawmakers Monday that there’s no substitute for the kind of hands-on outdoor experience CBF provides to students like hers.

“Without CBF, they would not catch the largest carp of the season, rescue garbage from the marsh, kiss a fish or touch the gooey inside of an oyster,” she said.

For many of her students, Yesnick said, the impact of their experience is felt long after graduation.

“Almost everyone falls in love with their natural heritage,” she said. “For some, it’s their first experience out on the water. For all, it’s a deepening awareness of the Bay as a national treasure.”

Annapolis high school student Amelia Farrell told the panel of lawmakers she was first introduced to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation on a trip to Tangier Island.

“This first trip I took with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation completely changed my outlook on the environment of Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay itself,” she said.

Farrell said she’ll be heading off to college in the fall, and her major will be environmental studies. It’s a decision, she said, that’s due to her experiences with CBF.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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