It’s Not Apples-to-Apples in School Construction Funding

In Maryland, the State shares school construction costs with counties, but the State only considers some construction costs eligible for funding.

The State of Maryland contributes to school construction funding. The contribution varies from a minimum of 50% to 100%. Those percentages, however, belie the fact that the State does not consider all school construction costs as eligible for its funding. Many costs of construction are excluded from the formula before the percentage is even applied.

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State shares of school construction only apply to certain costs.

The aim of the State’s contributions are to equalize the amount of funding spent on school construction statewide. The varying percentages the state contributes on school construction projects are calculated based on the wealth of the local school district.

You might look at the state-local cost share and think that the State is splitting of school construction costs in Anne Arundel County 50/50. That is not true — the comparison is not apples-to-apples: the State is only paying 50% of certain school construction costs. . . those that it deems eligible.

The State only considers certain construction costs as eligible for its funding. The State will help fund the construction of a school building, but it wont help with the equipment, furnishings, and artwork that goes inside. So, if your district cannot afford the same equipment as another location, your school will not be furnished the same.

The idea of wealth equalization — the effort to make sure that all students have equity in access to educational facilities — breaks down with the State’s actual funding formula.

But it’s not just the equipment and furnishings that are left out. There are a slew construction costs excluded by the State in its school construction funding formula, many of which are essential elements of a school construction project. Those include: architecture and engineering work, permits, test borings, soil analysis, water and sewer connection charges, topographical surveys, and construction inspection services.

See the full list of school construction costs excluded from State funding.

Unfortunately, some of the costs of construction that are not eligible, are becoming increasingly expensive. Those include classroom equipment that is more technologically advanced, such as projectors or smart boards. They also include the engineering fees associated with stormwater projects and other effort to make schools more environmentally friendly.

As reported previously on Conduit Street, the eligible costs rules can push the state’s actual share down 25% or more.

According to the 21st Century School Facilities Act of 2018, the Interagency Commission on School Construction is the body that determines the State’s cost share and it will be updated every two years. Previously, an updated cost share was recommended by the Interagency Committee on School Construction every three years and finalized by the Board of Public Works.

The IAC will meet on October 9 and November 15, and the Commission will likely take up the revision to the cost shares on November 15. More information about IAC meetings.