State funding laws intended to encourage education spending, may discourage it by complicating the structure of funding and requiring certain submissions on a timeline that mishmashes with county budget processes.
State “maintenance of effort” laws require a county to provide the same amount of education funding or more on a per-pupil basis each year. Maintenance of effort can discourage additional investment, especially during a faltering economic recovery, when future revenues are uncertain.
A legal provision called nonrecurring costs, however, allow county governments provide one-time school funding for one-time education costs without triggering perpetual mandates.
The hitch is: the deadline for submitting nonrecurring costs is in March – before many counties begin budget negotiations.
Perhaps as a result of this process, on average fewer than eight counties per year take advantage of this education budgeting tool.
Not all education costs are annually recurring per-student costs. One-time education expenses might include costs to:
- build new computer laboratories;
- make technology enhancements;
- start-up new instructional programs; or
- purchase books for a school library
The mechanism for appropriately excluding these one-time education costs from the maintenance of effort calculation requires special approval. A county must submit an application to exclude certain costs to the State Board for their approval before March 31 of each year.
Data from the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) in 2014 revealed that on average fewer than eight counties per year take advantage of this budgeting tool. Learning this, MACo developed Non-Recurring Costs For County School Budgeting: A County Official’s Guide to the Process and Laws Behind the System.
In the Guide, MACo aims to improve the accessibility and use of the nonrecurring cost exclusion, covering:
- How does a county apply to have nonrecurring costs approved?
- What categories of costs can be considered as nonrecurring?
- When does the school board need to agree with the request?
- What requests have been approved and denied in recent years?
All the submission forms, statutes, regulations, and guideline documents relevant to this process are provided in appendices to the Guide.