February 22, 2011

Advocates urge senators to prevent proposed cut in per-pupil spending

Print More

By Megan Poinski
Megan@MarylandReporter.com

Despite the state’s continuing problems balancing its budget, education advocates – from State Superintendent Nancy Grasmick to community leaders – pleaded with members of a Senate budget subcommittee on Friday not to cut funds from schools.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed a total of $6.4 billion for public school education in his fiscal year 2012 budget, a figure he described as “level funding.” But the total amount winds up being 4.6% less than schools are receiving in the current fiscal year, due to a loss of federal stimulus dollars.

Nearly $300 million was cut from the general fund, and almost $94 million cut by reducing the state’s per-student funding allocation by $150.

“I recognize the serious budgetary constraints. I just know the implications of this are very, very significant to local school systems,” Grasmick told the education, business and administration subcommittee of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee. “And what is most troublesome is some of these systems that are so marginal…. What is this going to mean with this march toward higher standards?”

O’Malley’s proposal includes making several adjustments to different aspects of education funding, and Legislative Services analysts made other recommendations for funding changes. But the three-hour hearing focused on the portion that would slightly cut per-student funding.

Grasmick stressed that public schools – ranked as the best in the nation by EducationWeek magazine three years in a row – are the centerpiece to the state’s success. While the slight cut may save the state some money, Grasmick said that the long-term cost would be much higher.

John Woolums, director of government relations for the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, said that what seems like a small change in funding formulas will be a big change to each of the state’s 24 public school districts.

“This is the first time there has ever been a historically unprecedented reduction in per pupil spending amount,” Woolums said. “Yes, it sounds dire. I want it to sound dire.”

Every single county – and every single student – loses under this plan, said Bebe Verdery, director of the education reform project for Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Charlie Cooper, chairman of the Maryland Education Commission, said that the school districts are all reeling over the amounts that may be cut from their budgets.

“I think that the opportunities that are lost will be lost with those kids forever,” Cooper said.

Bob Rankin from the Maryland State Education Association — the teacher’s union — presented the results of a poll showing that 82% Marylanders wanted education to be fully funded in the budget. Rankin said the poll showed Marylanders want a balanced budget through give and take – not just budget cuts.

Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery County, a former school board member, asked the people who attended the hearing for patience and understanding.

“None of these decisions are easy by any means,” she said. “The job of trying to balance all of the educational pieces is difficult.”