Education Advocates Call For Tougher Maintenance of Effort Laws

The November 11 Washington Post details the efforts of the Maryland State Education Association (the state’s largest teachers union) and other stakeholders to address Maintenance of Effort, the state law requiring counties to continue per pupil funding levels from the prior year to remain eligible for added state school funds. From the article:

An 11th-hour amendment to a much-disputed education finance law in Maryland during this year’s legislative session could jeopardize as much as $2.6 billion in local funding that school districts have traditionally counted on, according to a report being released Monday by the Maryland State Education Association.

The report warns of “slashed education funding,” ever-growing class sizes and deeper cuts to programs and professional development. It calls for state lawmakers to strengthen the law by requiring that local funding levels remain steady.

“As counties struggle to preserve county services with shrinking budgets, the law’s weaknesses become ripe for further exploitation,” the report says.

MACo has also weighed in on the controversial issues of school funding and accountability, citing counties’ willingness to fund beyond the required MOE levels in previous years as a major factor in the fiscal challenges faced by declining revenue sources in a tough economy. MACo has adopted as one of its legislative initiatives for the 2012 session:

School Board Fiscal Accountability and Process Reforms – Recent years’ struggles over school funding have highlighted county difficulties in managing public school expenses. These difficulties have resulted in differences over budget submissions, employee actions, and Maintenance of Effort (MOE). Counties do not seek any governance over curriculum or programmatic functions of delivering education, but do seek a stronger partnership in guiding these investments of public funds. The range of approaches includes the equitable treatment of school/county personnel, improvements to the maintenance of effort calculation and waiver process, governance and disclosure of outside reserve funds, reasonable refinements to the school budget process, clearer categorical budget classifications, and determination of non-recurring costs. Enhancing these laws and relationships could leverage more accountability and responsiveness within the largest element of every county’s budget.

The Post article augurs a difficult debate over these issues in the 2012 session: “The report is the latest sign that the so-called “maintenance of effort” education law will continue to be a point of contention in the upcoming legislative session.”

Read the full Post article here.

Read the MSEA report here.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties

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