Tight Times Coming for County Appropriations to Schools?

In most years, counties have funded schools at levels substantially above the state Maintenance of Effort target level, reflecting a widespread county commitment to education priorities. However, with recent years’ tight budgets that include layoffs and furloughs for county employees, many counties are contemplating reductions to school budgets as part of their budget solutions.

Today’s Gazette includes some discussion of these challenges. “I think it’s going to be a tough year for education, probably more so than the last couple of years,” MACo Executive Director Michael Sanderson said.

“In practical terms, I think (maintenance of effort) will become the new ceiling,” said Barbara Hoffman, a former state senator from Baltimore County who is now a lobbyist for the Annapolis-based Artemis Group. “Why would anybody put in a dollar more? There’s been such a huge disincentive to put in a dollar more, a financial disincentive.”

In an amendment to the House’s budget bill during the 2011 General Assembly session, legislators clarified that the largest waivers counties could receive were for the difference between maintenance-of-effort levels and the county’s share of the state “Foundation” program, which is the per-pupil spending amounts outlined in the Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act of 2002 (commonly referred to as “Thornton”).

In effect, the county’s share of the Foundation’s per-pupil spending levels was highlighted as the lowest counties could legally go in funding schools.

This year, six counties  (Anne Arundel, Kent, Montgomery, Queen Anne’s, Talbot and Wicomico) requested initial consideration for waivers from their maintenance of effort requirements for FY 12 but all but Wicomico have now withdrawn their requests.

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