Hogan Signs Bill to Help Close Baltimore Schools Budget Gap

Governor Larry Hogan signed a bill Monday to give city schools and other jurisdictions with declining enrollment extra money each of the next three years.

The Annapolis bill signing marked the culmination of a months-long negotiation with Democrats to help stave off future funding cuts to struggling school districts. Fostering the compromise “took a lot of work by a lot of people,” the Republican Hogan said.

According to The Baltimore Sun,

Although the law gives all 10 Maryland jurisdictions with declining enrollment more money, the vast majority of the $28.2 million goes to Baltimore. It also comes with several new auditing requirements.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said the $23.7 million for city schools this year is “enough for now” to help close what was once a $130 million budget gap for the school system. The mayor included $22 million in her city budget proposal to help the school system.

Pugh, a Democrat, would not rule out having to ask the state for additional money next year, as city schools deal with persistent funding troubles and declining enrollment.

“It’s going to take us at least three years to get to where we need to go,” Pugh said after the bill signing ceremony. “It’s enough for now. It’s enough for this year.”

The other 10 school districts with declining enrollment are: Allegany County, Calvert County, Carroll County, Cecil County, Garrett County, Harford County, Kent County, Queen Anne’s County, Somerset County and Talbot County.

The legislation also doles out money to school systems that provide full-day prekindergarten for 4-year-olds, defraying the expense of that program. Again, Baltimore is the primary beneficiary of that deal.

Since the General Assembly session began in January, lawmakers and Hogan have discussed how to address Baltimore’s funding troubles and Hogan’s decision to strip money from new programs aimed at helping the city. Lawmakers restored money to those programs during the budget process.

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises, who attended the bill signing, said she had a message for city families: “They advocated. Their voices were heard.”

Santelises also said the school system is “scrubbing our operations” and looking for ways to cut costs, including consolidating schools. She plans to trim $30 million from the central office to help close this year’s shortfall.

The Baltimore City Council — composed entirely of Democrats — also plans to seek more money for schools. Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young has pledged to find $10 million in the Police Department budget that could be cut and redirected to education.

The three-year deal to help Baltimore is designed to be in place until the state government adopts a new formula for calculating how state aid to schools is distributed. Lawmakers are considering how to make sure all children have access to an equitable education.

Pugh said the current funding formulas benefit wealthy areas. Baltimore has lost millions of dollars in recent years because the formula allocates state aid based in part on a jurisdiction’s property values. Not all new developments in the city pay full taxes, so apparent increases in wealth do not always mean more revenue.

The formula also considers enrollment, which stands at 82,000 students in Baltimore. The district is expected to lose 1,000 students next year.

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