Senate Passes bill to waive 2010 MOE penalty

The Maryland Senate passed SB 476 on Friday as reported in the Washington Post .  The bill waives the multi-million dollar penalty the state imposed on 2 counties  for failing to meet its maintenance of effort requirement for education.  The bill moves to the House for consideration.  This action was the first step taken by the legislature taking a look at the burdens of counties to fund county obligations.

According to an article in today’s Baltimore Sun:

For decades, Maryland lawmakers have built up public education through spending requirements that they’ve imposed on themselves and on local governments. But this year, more seriously than ever, the General Assembly is looking for ways to nip at school funding.

Del. John L. Bohanan Jr., a Democrat and chairman of the House of Delegates education budget subcommittee, said the economy has forced the General Assembly to consider changes to education funding that “12 months ago would never have even been up for discussion. “Now we’re looking at these drastic measures that may be needed to balance the budget,” he said.

Further comments from county officials reinforced the urgency of the legislation:

Three frustrated county executives testified at the Wednesday hearing that the state school board had set waiver requirements far too high, seemingly making only the total collapse of a tax base as reason enough to grant one.

“None of us are proud of ourselves for being here,” said Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt Jr. “But these are unprecedented times, and we’ve cut our other departments so drastically. We have to open other doors that have been kept closed. We’ve put off cutting education as long as we can.”

Wicomico, Prince George’s and Montgomery counties each asked the state school board last year to waive their spending requirement, though the former two were able to find enough funding in the end. Montgomery did not.

“We made a powerful case, and it was denied,” said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett, who noted his county was able to come up with “99 percent” of the requirement. And, in previous years, he said, the county spent millions more than was required by law. He called the waiver process confusing and unfair.

Because of the school board’s denial, Montgomery schools are to be docked $24 million in state funding this year. The state Senate last week overwhelmingly approved legislation to waive that penalty, a proposal the House of Delegates is also expected to pass.

But Michael Sanderson, director of the Maryland Association of Counties, said Montgomery’s experience pointed to the need for a “release valve” in tough economic times such as these. “We know this is going to be another rough year,” he said.

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