ANNAPOLIS – About $30 million in extra education funds could be funneled to 13 school districts next year if a proposal by the Maryland State Department of Education is adopted by the General Assembly.
The money – including about $12 million for Prince George’s County, $8.2 million for Baltimore City and $3.2 million for Montgomery County – was excluded from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s operating budget, but bills in the Legislature could force him restore it.
The funds are a provision of the $1.3 billion school reform law known as the Thornton plan, passed in 2002, and were intended to compensate school districts with high costs of education and living.
The Attorney General’s Office ruled the provision was not mandatory – a decision Ehrlich employed to exclude the funds, originally estimated at $45 million.
The Thornton plan did require, however, that a formula be designed to determine the funds high-cost school districts should receive. That formula was presented by the education department Feb. 13, just two days after a pair of powerful lawmakers introduced bills to restore the funds to the budget.
“There are numerous ways that (the formula) could be done,” said Mary Clapsaddle, assistant state superintendent of schools for business services. “The cost of those can vary widely. We kind of selected what we thought was a reasonable, balanced approach.”
Few lawmakers and school district officials had seen the plan.
The proposal would distribute about $30 million, a percentage of what the formula would require, among 13 high-cost school districts next year and phase in the total estimated funds over three years. About $75 million would be distributed in the fourth year, Clapsaddle said.
Ten school districts would see a decrease in the growth of their funds over five years, but would still receive annual increases, she said. The remaining district, Caroline County, would have level funding.
The 13 high-cost school districts and the funds they could receive are: Anne Arundel, $1.5 million; Baltimore County, $1.2 million; Calvert, $600,000; Carroll, $650,000; Charles, $880,000; Frederick, $1.4 million; Howard, $880,000; Kent, $28,000; Montgomery, $3.2 million; Prince George’s, $12 million; Queen Anne’s, $108,000; and Baltimore City, $8.2 million. St. Mary’s County also would receive a small increase.
The 10 low-cost districts are: Allegany, Cecil, Dorchester, Garrett, Harford, Somerset, Talbot, Washington, Wicomico and Worcester counties.
Several formula combination and applications were possible, including a weighted version that could have sent just $2 million to four large school districts next year, said Mark Collins, an analyst at the Department of Legislative Services.
“It recognizes costs more appropriately,” Collins said of the weighted version. He acknowledged, however, that $30 million extra for schools would be more appealing.
Clapsaddle said the proposal phased in the funds as a “fiscal consideration” and that it was not set in stone.
“This recommendation is really a starting point for discussion,” she said. “It is by no means the last word.” The proposal will be considered by three General Assembly committees before approval. The bill requiring Ehrlich to include the funds is making its way through the legislative process and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee has added an amendment to the governor’s slots bill that would dedicate funds from the machines’ licensing fees to cost of education differences.