Student Enrollment Surges in Montgomery County

More than 160,000 students began the school year Tuesday in Montgomery County, the district expects another year of record enrollment and has expanded its focus on ESL (English as a Second Language) and CTE (Career Technical Education).

According to The Washington Post,

Montgomery is increasingly diverse — roughly 30 percent Hispanic, 29 percent white, 22 percent black and 14 percent Asian — with more English-language learners and economically disadvantaged students in recent years.

Nearly 1,000 new teachers are joining the Montgomery school system this year, and new Spanish-English language immersion programs began at Brown Station Elementary and Washington Grove Elementary. More than 100 new school buses are on the road.

This year’s enrollment spike— by nearly 2,300 students, to 161,302 — marks the ninth consecutive year that county school system has recorded a yearly increase of more than 2,000 students.

Counties value public education as a high priority, and an essential service and benefit to the citizens and the economy. State Budgeting formulas and requirements complicate this commitment, especially because nearly all state education funding is distributed on a per-pupil basis, meaning that the more students a school system serves, the more funding it receives.

By contrast, when the number of students declines, schools can experience a sudden drop in funding. This dynamic can strain local budgets – reflecting the reality that not every dollar spent in a school system is truly a “variable cost.” A sudden drop in students across a county school system may mean some cost savings in bus transportation and meals service – but may not have any effect on “fixed costs,” which account for most system-wide expenditures on education and administration.

That strain is compounded when a decline in enrollment flows through wealth formulas, as most state education aid does. As a county’s overall tax base is divided by fewer students (for a per-pupil wealth calculation), the jurisdiction appears more wealthy under state wealth formulas, and its aid amounts are adjusted downward. Thus, not only does the system receive funding for fewer students, it also receives fewer dollars per student – a troubling compounding effect.

In order to address these “cliff effect” funding decreases, MACo successfully supported passage of a bill that will provide $28.2 million in additional funding for K-12 public schools. The funding will be provided to: Allegany ($793,000), Calvert ($240,000), Carroll ($1.6 million), Cecil ($190,000), Garrett ($456,000), Harford ($356,000), Kent ($215,000), Queen Anne’s ($22,000), Somerset ($455,000), and Talbot ($133,000) Counties, and Baltimore City ($23.7 million).

The Kirwan Commission has been charged with evaluating a wide range of issues with school funding — with a close look at the wealth calculation and annual funding changes among their topics.