Counties Seek Alternatives To Solve Student Connectivity Issues

On March 9, MACo Policy Associate Drew Jabin submitted testimony to the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in opposition to SB 770 Education – Technology Resources – Funding (Ending the Digital Divide Act). This bill would require county boards of education to designate funds to provide digital tools for students, effectively creating an unfunded mandate.

From the MACo Testimony:

SB 770 would mandate local school boards use at least 7% of the target per pupil funding to provide students with laptops, internet connectivity, technical assistance, and information technology software. This state funding for public schools is set via a formula. Adding new and costly mandated expenses to the required school program belies the lengthy debates regarding these adequacy figures. Counties have no choice but to support these new costs —competing for limited local funds against school construction, public safety, roadway maintenance, and other essential public services. If federal funds are a potential resource for the services envisioned in SB 770, legislation to prioritize these functions as a part of locally developed plans could be a more appropriate state-local partnership. SB 770 creates the funding requirement, but without true assurances that federal funds will necessarily be available to satisfy that vision.

Amidst a broad-based re-thinking of Maryland’s education priorities under the Kirwan Blueprint legislation, SB 770 introduces a substantial new mandated cost fully outside the basis for that new vision for school funding. Connectivity and related equity issues are a worthy topic – one that MACo has adopted as a top legislative priority for the 2021 session. However, the SB 770 framework precludes flexibility and leaves future funding sources in doubt.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session on MACo’s Legislative Tracking Database.