ANNAPOLIS-A new bill would help fix problems with school funding and maintenance of effort laws that have become a “toothless tiger,” said Delegate John L. Bohanan Jr, D-St. Mary’s, at a hearing Thursday.
In a joint hearing of the House Appropriations Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee, Bohanan and Delegate Anne R. Kaiser, D-Montgomery, said the state has relied on maintenance of effort laws to provide guidance on how much to allocate for local education since 1984. However, underfunding in the past few years has proven the bill to be ineffective.
The current maintenance of effort law requires individual counties to match the amount of funding the state gives them for local education. In addition, counties must provide equal or greater funding to education than in previous years.
Most counties haven’t had many problems meeting maintenance of effort in the past 20 years, but due to the recent economic downturn, counties like Montgomery and Wicomico have struggled to foot the bill.
Under the new law, counties that can’t match the previous year’s funding would be required to apply for a waiver, which would exempt the county from matching for one year.
The bill also attempts to fix problems associated with rebasing, which occurs when counties’ contributions reset after they fail to meet their yearly funding expectation and don’t apply for a waiver.
HB 1412 would allow a county to reset its baseline of school funding if it can prove to the State Board of Education that it is unable to make the payment, or if it paid extra in previous years.
The intent of the law is to “pull everybody closer,” focusing on counties that are underfunding or near the bottom of funding levels, said Bohanan.
While most committee members in the hearing seemed to agree that maintenance of effort laws need adjustment, some delegates criticized a portion of the bill that would give counties the option to raise property tax caps in order to meet maintenance of effort costs.
“Solving this one problem would create others,” said Delegate Ron George, R-Anne Arundel.
The Montgomery County Board of Education and Hartford County Board of Education have both come out in support of the bill, which was introduced Monday.