Editorial Asks for More Flexibility in Education Funding Law

An editorial in the Star Democrat asks for more flexibility in a state law that requires counties to provide the same or greater funding, on a per-pupil basis, to its schools each year.  The law, known as maintenance of effort, was the subject of a MACo legislative initiative in this year’s General Assembly. One issue with the law is an overly broad definition of education expenses that must be included in each year’s budget.

For example, the cost of building ramps or railings to comply with accessibility requirements are currently counted in maintenance of effort. This means that every time a county builds an ADA ramp for a school, the county will be required to pay for the cost of the ramp year after year, despite the fact that the ramp has already been built. Even when counties have made a special application to the State Board of Education, asking them to exclude these upgrade costs from future budgets, the State Board has denied their applications.

SB 627, sponsored by Senator Addie Eckardt, would have allowed for those accessibility upgrades to be excluded from maintenance of effort and would have required additional study of maintenance of effort and school construction issues. The Senate passed the legislation unanimously, but legislators in the House of Delegate’s Ways and Means Committee failed to take up the bill.

The Star Democrat‘s editorial describes how Kent County is seeking to avoid inappropriate accounting for school funding by seeking exceptions to maintenance of effort for one-time laptop purchases for high school students, among other expenses. At this point, counties and school boards must seek approval for those types of exceptions from the State Board.

The editorial in the Star Democrat, “MOE needs to be more flexible” also shares broad concerns with the maintenance of effort laws, including the fact that they tend to drive counties to spend the minimum on education for fear of binding themselves into consistently higher funding requirements. As described,

Kent County government appears to be in very good financial shape when it comes to next year’s budget, which takes effect July 1. And the commissioners are eager to help the school district. How they do it, though, is tricky.

It comes back to the per-pupil funding requirement. If the commissioners up the ante this year, it remains in place next year. But what if the county is not in such a strong position next year? That is what the commissioners have to worry about, and what keeps them from simply increasing the county’s contribution to the KCPS [Kent County Public School] budget.

For more information read the Editorial from the Star Democrat here.

Read more about MACo’s initiative bill in our previous post, MACo School Funding Bill Gets Unanimous Senate Support

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