MACo Backs Tax Credit to Incentivize Local Internships

MACo Associate Director, Natasha Mehu, provided written testimony in support of Senate Bill 522, “Income Tax Credit – Eligible Employers – Eligible Internships,” to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee on February 21, 2017.

SB 522 creates a program that allows businesses to receive a credit against the state income tax for employing eligible interns enrolled in public and private nonprofit higher education institutions in the state. In turn, the interns receive valuable and paid experience in a field that interests them. Counties appreciate that this bill offers a state-funded tax benefit, without a “spillover” residual effect on county revenues and services.

From MACo testimony:

Internships supplement classroom experience by providing students exposure to real-world problems, increasing their marketability to employers, offering opportunities for advancement within organizations, and other professional growth opportunities. Employers benefit from the well qualified pool of potential employees the internships create.

Follow MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session here.

MACo Opposes Statewide Community College Collective Bargaining

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified to the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017, in opposition to House Bill 871, Education – Community Colleges – Collective Bargaining.

Counties oppose the one-size-fits-all approach of HB 871, which limits local decision-making.

The move to collective bargaining outlined in this bill could create potentially unsustainable costs for counties, who provide substantial funding for community colleges throughout Maryland – especially since the legislation does not envision any added State support.

From the MACo testimony,

Despite counties’ role in supporting community colleges, this legislation would
not provide any opportunity for county governments to participate in collective bargaining
negotiations. The combination of these effects – State-imposed system and costs, no county
participation in bargaining, and no additional State funding – is simply not affordable as a
statewide county mandate and could present substantial budget difficulties.

MACo opposed identical legislation in past sessions of the General Assembly.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

MACo Supports Grant Funding to Offset Declining Enrollment

MACo Policy Associate, Kevin Kinnally testified in support of House Bill 684, “Education – Grant for Declining Education Aid,” to the House Appropriations Committee on February 21, 2017.

HB 684 would help to offset the sudden drop-off in education funding to jurisdictions with declining enrollment, ensuring school systems can offer equivalent courses and programs, even with fewer students.

Five Jurisdictions–Baltimore City, Calvert County, Carroll County, Garrett County, and Talbot County–are slated to lose a combined $45M in state education funding in 2018. Baltimore City is the most deeply affected, with a $38m loss in year-to-year total state education funds.

From the MACo testimony,

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.

To learn more about Maryland’s school budgeting formula, read “Why do Five Jurisdictions Lose $45M in Education Funds?” on MACo’s Conduit Street Blog.

For more on MACo’s advocacy efforts during the 2017 legislative session, visit our Legislative Tracking Database.

Prince George’s County Schools CEO Gets Second Term

Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) announced Friday he was extending the contract for Kevin Maxwell, the schools’ chief executive officer.

According to The Washington Post,

It is the first time in nearly 25 years that a superintendent in Prince George’s County will get a second term. Before Maxwell, the state’s second-largest school system had seven superintendents in less than two decades.

Maxwell is paid just under $300,000 a year. He was appointed by Baker in 2013, shortly after the state legislature awarded the county executive broad new power over school-system governance.

His leadership is a central part of Baker’s plan to overhaul and stabilize the system after years of scandal, poor performance and dwindling public trust.

Maxwell, who grew up in and began his career in Prince George’s County, has seen graduation rates reach record highs at some schools. Enrollment and some test scores also have increased.

He expanded full-day prekindergarten and language-immersion offerings,and increased participation in dual-enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses.

“It has been challenging but at the same time, it’s been some of the most rewarding work that I have ever done,” Maxwell said at a news conference at DuVal High School, where he introduced a specialized academic program focused on aerospace science.

Maxwell cited letters he has received from grateful students, the number of strategic business and philanthropic partnerships that school officials have brokered and a more than $44 million increase in the value of scholarships offered to county graduates in 2016.

“I see this as my capstone for my career,” he said. “I see this as my legacy and reinvesting in the community that gave me the life that I have today.”

Read the full article for more information.

Legislation Could Provide Local Schools with Flexibility on Holidays

Closing schools for Presidents’ Day could become optional for Maryland school districts under a bill (HB 400) being considered in the General Assembly.

The same could happen to Easter Monday.

Concerned about Governor Larry Hogan’s 2016 executive order requiring the state’s 24 school districts to start classes after Labor Day and end by June 15, several state lawmakers want to give local jurisdictions flexibility by removing Presidents’ Day and Easter Monday from the state’s list of mandatory public school holidays.

As reported in The Washington Post,

“These couple of days would be important to the school schedule,” said Del. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), the chief sponsor of the bill.

The bill’s chances at passage are not clear. Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), vice chairman of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, called the idea of canceling long-standing holidays a slippery slope.

“What’s next?,” he said. “Martin Luther King Day? Labor Day?”

Last August, Hogan (R) signed an executive order dictating the start and end of school, saying the change would benefit families and the economy. Almost every school district in the state had been starting the academic year before Labor Day.

Although the promise of a longer summer vacation earned strong support from the public, many educators and Democratic lawmakers said the change would cut into learning and test-preparation time.

Hogan’s order led to the resignation of the vice president of the state Board of Education, who accused the governor of usurping the independent board’s authority.

In the meantime, school districts scrambled to ensure that their 2017-2018 school calendars adhered to the order. Anne Arundel County cut its spring break from one week to three days. Montgomery County reduced its number of scheduled school days from 184 to 182, with just two days allotted for bad weather.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said Beidle’s bill would provide “much needed” options as districts set up academic calendars, which must take into account state testing schedules, teacher in-service days and required holidays.

Current public-school holidays include Thanksgiving Day and the day after, Christmas Eve through Jan. 1, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents’ Day, the Friday before Easter through the Monday after Easter, Memorial Day, and, for most counties, primary and general-election days.

Amelia Chasse, a spokeswoman for Hogan, said the governor is pleased that nearly all Maryland counties are moving forward with “this return to common-sense scheduling.”

She said that starting school after Labor Day is “the right thing to do for Maryland families and students” and that instead of “focusing on [canceling] holidays, school districts should focus on removing the many unnecessary union services days.”

Chasse said Hogan will decide whether to sign the Presidents’ Day/Easter Monday measure if it reaches his desk.

In addition to Beidle’s bill, Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) has a bill that would allow a school district that has to close schools because of a state of emergency to reduce the 180-day required school year by up to five days without seeking a waiver from the state Board of Education.

The bill was requested by the Montgomery County school system, the largest in the state, with more than 159,200 students. It has the support of other school districts, as well.

Montgomery’s school board was able to meet Hogan’s requirements for the 2017-2018 school calendar, but school system spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said, “It’s going to be tough in the future.” Montgomery has scheduled 182 class days next school year.

Bob Mosier, a spokesman for Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent George Arlotto, said the school district sought a waiver from the state board two years ago to open on Easter Monday to make up for a snow day. If the legislation passes, he said, the district could decide on its own, without needing the state’s permission, to open or close on that day and Presidents’ Day.

“It’s the flexibility that we need in the calendar with the hard start and hard stop date established by the governor’s executive order,” he said.

Pinsky, a vocal opponent of Hogan’s order, says that school districts should legally challenge Hogan over it.

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh’s office issued an opinion last year that the governor may have exceeded his authority. Frosh (D) also said the legislature could overturn the executive order, but there has been no legislation introduced to do that.

Useful Links

The Washington Post Article

Previous Conduit Street Coverage on the School Calendar Debate

Anne Arundel Board of Education Passes $1.17B Operating Budget

Anne Arundel County Board of Education voted Wednesday to send a $1.17 billion operating budget to County Executive Steve Schuh. The request is $7.8 million more than Superintendent George Arlotto’s proposal because of a decision to increase employee salaries to make up for years of frozen salaries and offset potential increases in school staff’s health care payments.

As reported in the Capital Gazette,

In December, Arlotto asked for $1.16 billion to pay for a salary increase for school employees to close a gap in the school system’s health care fund and to hire more teachers and support staff.

The school board and county officials allocate money for compensation, and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County and the school board negotiate salaries and benefits.

In the last few months, Arlotto has said the health care deficit is a priority. The budget earmarks $20.5 million to close the gap. Hammond is working on a long-term plan to balance the schools’ health care budget and will request that the state allow Schuh to provide a one-time money for the fund.

School staff said they’re short about $7 million to pay medical bills through the end of this fiscal year. Arlotto warned if the deficit doesn’t get fixed, school officials may have to resort to furloughs or layoffs.

School employee unions negotiate health care plans with the school board.

The president of the teachers union, Richard Benfer, said the board’s additional salary request will make negotiations over health care easier.

“It’s inevitable that we’ll have to pay more,” he said, citing the rising costs of health care.

Teachers union leaders have said they want to see more money for salaries if their medical payments goes up.

The budget also sets aside money to hire more psychologists, special education teachers, social workers and counselors.

The school board backed Arlotto’s proposal to hire five assistant principals for elementary schools — part of a plan to hire assistant principals for more than 30 elementary schools with vacancies.

The spending plan includes money to expand an elementary school program that gives teachers more planning time as well as $6.8 million to open an elementary school in Annapolis this fall.

They also kept the money for 93 more teachers to staff a school population that has 763 more students this year than the previous year.

There are approximately 81,000 students this year, compared to about 73,000 in 2006. The school system is expected to continue to grow. Students eligible for food assistance have about doubled in the last decade. The number of students receiving English language help has about tripled.

The board also passed the $240.6 million construction budget toward upgrades for Tyler Heights, Edgewater, Richard Henry Lee, Manor View, High Point, George Cromwell, Jessup and Arnold elementary schools, and Crofton High School.

County Executive Schuh will present his version of the operating and capital budgets in May.

Read the full article for more information.

Universal Pre-K Not as Easy as A, B, C

Across the country local jurisdictions  looking to expand pre-k education are finding it difficult to fund and establish “universal” programs.

As reported by Governing:

San Antonio isn’t alone in its focus on pre-K. A handful of states are pumping funds into expanded pre-kindergarten programs, with varying degrees of success and commitment. Several cities have opted to fund a more rigorous pre-K program than state funding provides. But while universal pre-K is widely admired, the prevalence of well-funded and enriching programs is highly uneven across the U.S. In 2014, of the 40 states plus the District of Columbia with state-funded pre-K programs, only nine served more than half of all 4-year-olds in the state, and 11 served less than 10 percent, according to a report in U.S. News. Overall, only “a smattering of states have dedicated time and resources to expanding pre-K programs,” says Steve Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER). “Even fewer have made it a priority through the years.”

Over the past half century, states’ interest in early education has waxed and waned. Although funding faltered during the Great Recession, states overall have been increasing their investments in pre-K programs during the past 20 years. The investments are generally popular with the public: Several studies have shown that pre-kindergarten can help kids from different cultural backgrounds and lower socioeconomic neighborhoods enter kindergarten on a level playing field with their more affluent, mainstream peers. At the same time, there has been flagging interest in some states as questions have been raised about how effective the programs are in the long run.

As more states and cities implement universal pre-K programs, they’re confronting basic questions of funding: Who will pay for it and how? But there are broader, thornier questions as well. Is high-quality universal pre-kindergarten an affordable and achievable goal? Do these programs actually accomplish what their advocates hope? So far, in the states and cities that have moved forward with pre-K programs, the answers seem to range from “absolutely” to “not so sure.”

Only three states — Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma — have what could be called truly universal programs in that they’re available to all 4-year-olds, regardless of parental income. The three states offer examples of the different ways in which the program’s funding source can affect its future.

While most state programs call themselves universal, it’s really a catch-all term with a range of meanings — from truly universal pre-K for all children regardless of parental income, to pre-K for all low-income families, to pre-K programs contingent on how much the state budget can afford that year.

For more information read the full article on  Governing

State Approves Allegany’s Request For Pre-Labor Day Start

Allegany County public school students will report for classes in August next school year despite Governor Larry Hogan’s executive order requiring a post-Labor Day start.

The Allegany County Board of Education was granted a waiver from the governor’s order at January’s board meeting of the Maryland State Department of Education. The waiver was approved based on weather conditions in Western Maryland.

According to The Cumberland Times-News,

The local school board is expected to approve an Aug. 29 start for Allegany County students at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“We qualified for a waiver from Gov. Hogan based on our weather history,” said David Cox, Allegany County superintendent of schools. “We were one of a few school districts that applied. Garrett and Allegany counties are the only two … granted a waiver. We are the two counties that have the most severe weather.”

The local board had asked for feedback on two calendar options. One option had students reporting Aug. 22 and the second had an Aug. 29 start date.

Allegany County Public Schools average seven or eight lost days each school year due to inclement weather. Some years, schools have been closed for as many as 16 days.

“It gives us a lot of flexibility,” said Cox. “We are still required to be out by June 15, but an earlier start helps reduce some of the anxiety.”

Cox said school officials received little negative input from parents in regard to the August start.

“We didn’t get much negative feedback,” said Cox. “The most support we got was people wanting to start before Labor Day because they know we can miss so much.”

Mandated holidays for Maryland schools are Thanksgiving Day and the day after, Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Presidents’ Day, Good Friday and the Monday after Easter, Memorial Day and primary and general election days.

Cox said the idea of a pre-Labor Day start in Allegany County was thoroughly vetted.

“We’ve had a couple surveys on our website and we had a teacher roundtable,” said Cox. “You won’t get 100 percent agreement, but with our principals, teachers and staff we’ve talked about it for several months and worked through a lot of different suggestions.”

Useful Links

Cumberland Times-News Article

Previous Conduit Street Coverage on Gov. Hogan’s Post-Labor Day School Start Executive Order

Wor-Wic Faces Financial Challenges, Asks Counties to Help

Wor-Wic Community College asked Worcester and Wicomico County officials for financial assistance to cover a $600,000 budget shortfall. The shortfall is due to a decline in enrollment and a rise in health care costs.

As reported in The Dispatch:

On Tuesday Murray Hoy, president of Wor-Wic, approached both the Worcester County Commissioners and the Wicomico County Council to ask for funding to help cover a budgetary shortfall. Worcester County agreed to contribute $175,200 while Wicomico County agreed to fund $212,400. Hoy is expected to return to Wicomico County in May to seek an additional transfer.

“I’m coming to you with hat in hand asking you to help offset a $600,000 shortfall,” Hoy said.

In a presentation Tuesday morning, Hoy told Worcester County officials the community college was close to $1.3 million in the hole this year. He said the shortfall was attributable to two things — a decline in enrollment and higher than expected medical benefits costs. Hoy said the decline in enrollment was a trend community colleges nationwide were experiencing. While last year half of Maryland community colleges saw declines, this year they’ve all seen declines, Hoy said. He said nationally, there was a 9 percent reduction in community college enrollment since the end of the country’s recession.

To combat the increased medical expenses and the declining enrollment, the school has started strategically freezing positions, instituted a travel freeze, eliminated the plan to contract with the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department for a deputy, and removed 14 credit program options. Officials are also looking for school-wide budget reductions.

To learn more read The Dispatch

Frederick Schools Expect Influx of New Students Next Year, Adding to Pressure on Budget

The numbers are in: Frederick County Public Schools officials expect the district to keep expanding — almost 500 more students in the next school year, more than some of the county’s elementary schools.

According to The Frederick News-Post,

With the influx of students — a much larger projected surge than in years past — come adjustments to short- and long-term budgets and construction planning. But funding is complicated by the way it’s calculated by the county and state, which rely on outdated enrollment numbers to determine their payouts to the district.

Already, the school system must contend with continued rapid growth in pockets of the county, such as around Urbana and western Frederick. Other schools are underused, largely in northern Frederick County.

School officials anticipate 498 more students next school year.

The county and state don’t use that number, though, when they give money to the district for the coming year’s operating budget. They base their contributions on the school district’s enrollment as of September 2016.

So even if the district accounts for many more students for the next school year, it’s lagging a year behind, said Leslie Pellegrino, the district’s chief financial officer.

The school board, without taxing authority, relies primarily on the county and state for money.

Another complication comes with paying for staffing.

The district figures how many staff members it needs based on its internal projections. Since funding is based on old enrollment figures, the money it receives doesn’t always cover additional positions.

The school system initially thought it would take in only 99 more students this school year. It added more than 650. District officials still can’t fully explain the swell. As of September 2016, the district enrolls more than 41,300 students.

At the same time, the 24 school districts compete for limited state dollars for school construction at a time when many regions of Maryland continue to blossom and want to build more schools.

Some schools, too, are aged and need repairs and modernization, which are covered by the same pot of state construction money. Pellegrino gave the example of Baltimore County and Baltimore City. State officials, such as Comptroller Peter Franchot (D), have blasted those districts for lacking air conditioning in some schools.

Frederick County Public Schools have struggled to pay for new schools, particularly in the case of Butterfly Ridge Elementary School, in west Frederick, and Sugarloaf Elementary School in Urbana. They are due to open concurrently in 2018. The county had to partner with a developer to help simultaneously fund both schools.

Frederick County’s school board has set its construction priorities for the next few years, and those likely won’t change, said Beth Pasierb, a facilities planning supervisor. After the new Frederick High School is finished and the two new elementary schools open, the district plans to replace Urbana Elementary School and construct a new Rock Creek School, as well as an addition to Waverley Elementary School.

Useful Links

Frederick News-Post Article

September 2017 Enrollment Projections

Why Do Five Jurisdictions Lose $45M In Education Funds?