November 6, 2009

Legislators, local educators dispute education aid

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By Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

School officials from around the state complained to lawmakers Thursday of big cuts in state assistance, as incredulous senators and delegates argued that education has fared better than most other state services.

“Our school systems have received significant cuts over the last couple of years.” said Caroline County Schools Superintendent Edward Shirley, president of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.

“Are you saying you got less total dollars this year than last year?” asked Senate Republican Leader Allan Kittleman, a Republican from Howard and Carroll counties. Kittleman is one of 18 lawmakers on a joint workgroup to study fiscal relationships with local jurisdictions.

“Education funding has not gone down. It’s difficult to hear that funding has been cut very much,” he said.

Senate Budget and Taxation Chairman Ulysses Currie, a Prince George’s Democrat, said Gov. Martin O’Malley has cut as much as $4 billion from other parts of state government while education has been largely held harmless.

“The state government has really taken major hits,” Currie said.

Baltimore City Del. Maggie McIntosh, chair of the House Environmental Matters committee, pointed asked a legislative analyst, “Is there any county that you know of that is not receiving as much money this year as last year?”

The crux of the schools’ argument is that the state did slightly reduce its aid to education and libraries by $200 million to $5.2 billion, which remains more than one third of the state’s General Fund. However, Maryland used $295 million in federal stimulus dollars to pay for some school funding that the state would normally pick up. Overall, K-12 school funding has gone up $700 million since 2007, according to O’Malley’s office.

“Money is money,” McIntosh said. “I’m counting the federal stimulus money.”

Carl Roberts, the former Cecil County schools superintendent who now directs the superintendents association, said, “We don’t want people to think we have not suffered.”

“We have had to cut our budgets,” Roberts said.

The Maryland Association of School Boards produced a detailed chart of how most of Maryland counties have had to trim their spending in the face of budget shortfalls on the local level.

The school systems, which receive the largest single chunk of state and local revenues, are worried about what is going to happen when the federal stimulus money dries up.

Cathy Allen, president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and a member of the St. Mary’s County school board, said, “When the two years of supplemental federal funding ends, the state and local governments and school systems will confront a funding cliff.”

The Joint Legislative Workgroup to Study State, County, and Municipal Fiscal Realtionships is made up of 18 General Assembly leaders from the committees in both houses that deal with budget and finance issues. The group was set up to examine all the funding formulas and mandates that send 40 percent of state general funds back to local jurisdictions.

Workgroup Co-chairman Sen. Ed Kasemeyer, the Howard County Democrat who is both majority leader and vice-chair of the budget committee, said legislative staff will have some recommendations for legislation at the Nov. 19 meeting. The workgroup leaders have said they do not expect to recommend major changes in funding formulas until after next year’s session of the General Assembly.

  • Dale McNamee

    Regarding the loss of federal stimulus money… Why not adjust spending down to what would be coming in sans the federal money ?

    Also, don’t expand current programs or create new new ones given the loss…

    Education needs to live within its means…