In today’s Washington Post, columnist Robert McCartney frames the debate over the school funding maintenance of effort law, highlighting the legal tactic sought by Montgomery County Public Schools that would affect not only the Montgomery County budget process, but that for every county’s budget introduction and deliberation. The legal filing from the county’s schools to the State Board of Education seeks a declaration that a county may not even introduce or debate a county budget that supports public schools at a level lower than that indicated by the state’s maintenance of effort law. This interpretation is thoroughly contrary to the process used currently, where counties debate their own budgetary capacity, and if required seek a waiver from the State Board of Education that, if granted, would relieve that county from having additional State funding withheld.
From today’s column:
Nevertheless, in practical terms, the legal petition is quite unproductive, and the board should withdraw it. The filing makes it impossible for Montgomery to present a united front to the state legislature and State Board of Education to sort out the mess. If a compromise can’t be reached, the county risks losing $22 million or more of state education aid, which would just aggravate its budget pressures.
Weast’s stance is so problematic that it even drew objections from the ever-conciliatory County Executive Ike Leggett.
The school system’s action “puts us in a very difficult position here at this time,” Leggett said. “I would hope maybe that they would reconsider, and let’s get back and talk about this locally.”
In a narrow sense, the battle highlights the serious shortcomings of Maryland’s educational “maintenance of effort” law. It would penalize Montgomery for failing to increase school spending according to a formula that doesn’t make sense in this economy. The school board is invoking the law even though it acknowledges that the county can’t afford to pay up and would need a waiver for this year.