MACo to State: Don’t Punish Us for Temporarily Low School Enrollment During Pandemic

Montgomery County Council Member Craig Rice and Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Jack Wilson, MACo’s Education Subcommittee Chair and Vice Chair, sent a letter to Speaker Adrienne Jones and President Bill Ferguson asking them to fully fund schools and hold counties harmless in unusual time of low enrollment during the pandemic.

When the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country, our public schools had to quickly adjust to new and creative ways of serving Maryland’s kids. As schools moved to virtual learning, the combined burdens of working from home, managing virtual learning, and caring for family resulted in some Maryland families turned to other options for schooling during the pandemic for a variety of reasons.

The mix of hybrid in-person/virtual schooling, temporary independent homeschooling, and general inconsistency in attendance during the pandemic has resulted in lower enrollment than predicted for this year and last. Enrollment plays a crucial role in school funding formulas in Maryland, with even  temporarily reduced enrollments resulting in decreased State funding for Local Education Agencies (LEAs). It is important to note that while enrollment may decrease, fixed costs such as utilities and personnel costs do not have the same corresponding reduction, leaving LEAs to carry those fixed costs.  As you can imagine, this is of great concern for LEAs and counties as we prepare our budgets and an expected return to full, post-pandemic in-person learning for next school year.

Leadership on MACo’s Education Subcommittee, in collaboration with the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland (PSSAM), and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) reached out to to Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones asking them to address the issue, as they did during the 2021 legislative session.

The letter was also sent to Governor Larry Hogan, who last session also  acknowledged the predicament low enrollment causes for counties and LEAs.

From the letter:

During the 2021 legislative session, under your leadership, the General Assembly recognized the unfortunate position counties and LEAs found themselves in regarding enrollment and school funding. Ultimately, the Legislature passed special provisions to “skip” the September 2020 enrollment count – a move that counties and LEAs found helpful in maintaining realistic school funding formulas. Notably, Governor Hogan also moved to address the issue and “held schools harmless” for the circumstantial decline in enrollment.

Accordingly, the Education Subcommittee of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) Legislative Committee, the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland (PSSAM), and the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE) ask that you consider a similar solution during the 2022 legislative session. In doing so, counties and LEAs will not be collaterally punished for the unusual circumstances of the pandemic. Additionally, we request that you help craft a similar solution by holding the overall Comp Ed funding to LEAs harmless. Last year the US Department of Agriculture allowed LEAs to “carryover” their FARMS enrollment numbers from the 2019-2020 school year, recognizing that asking families to complete the forms would be nearly impossible due to the pandemic and virtual learning. Unfortunately, this year they did not extend the same exemption and LEAs are reporting significant losses across all of the special populations, but most notably for the Comp Ed students. As you are well aware, these are the students and families hit the hardest during the pandemic and suffering the most learning loss. While we cannot change the Department of Agriculture’s decision, we are hoping you can work with us on a solution to hold this overall funding harmless, regardless of the actual enrollment for one additional year.

Read the full letter.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for the latest on school funding.