CHESTERTOWN — The membership of a state committee reviewing education funding formulas has some local officials on edge.
As announced last month by state Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future Funding Formula Workgroup comprises no members from the Eastern Shore or from other rural areas of the state.
Kent County Commissioner Bob Jacob expressed his concerns over that fact at a July 16 meeting. He suggested sending a letter Harford County Executive Barry Glassman — who also is president of the Maryland Association of Counties, a member of the funding formula workgroup and a Washington College graduate — voicing the commissioners’ concerns.
Jacob said the letter he wants to put together should include information about the “unique nature of Kent County.” He wants the letter to note Kent County is farming community and its schools continue to face declining student enrollment.
He said maybe another letter could go to Gov. Larry Hogan voicing the commissioners’ disappointment.
“Well it’s bad enough that they don’t have anybody from the Eastern Shore, but then when you don’t even have anybody from the rest of the rural counties throughout the state, that sends a clear message whose calling the shots in all this,” Commissioner Ron Fithian said at the meeting.
Fithian said school funding is one of the most important financial issues in the county.
The funding formula workgroup is a subcommittee of the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, commonly referred to as the Kirwan Commission for Chairman and former University System of Maryland chancellor William E. “Britt” Kirwan.
Among those joining Kirwan on the funding formula workgroup are the current and a former Maryland budget secretary; three state lawmakers, two current and one former, all from Baltimore; and officials from Harford, Baltimore, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
According to a June 4 news release from Miller and Jones, the workgroup will submit a report to the full Kirwan Commission by Nov. 1.
“We have a solid set of policy recommendations and we are asking this esteemed group to work out the details for funding before the next legislative session. The law that we passed this year is an important step forward but we need full implementation to ensure our students are competitive nationally and globally,” Jones, a member of the Kirwan Commission, said in the release.
With a meeting held June 20 and July 24, the workgroup has discussions scheduled for Aug. 1 and 22, and Sept. 5, 19 and 26, according to the Maryland Association of Boards of education website. That calendar shows a public hearing will be held on “preliminary decisions” from 5 to 7 :30 p.m. Sept. 19 in Anne Arundel County. No specification location is given.
“I am grateful that leaders from the executive branch, the legislative branch, and leaders in the education and non-profit world are committed to finding a path forward on this monumental task,” Miller said in the release.
Perhaps most concerning for local officials is the workgroup’s charge to “make recommendations for specific funding formulas for ongoing costs within each Kirwan Commission policy recommendation.” That could lead to changes in how the county share of school funding is determined by the state.
Kent County Superintendent Karen Couch, a member of the Kirwan Commission, has raised the issue with how a county’s “wealth” plays a role in funding formulas.
While Kent County’s three elementary schools and the middle school qualify for additional federal support based on the number of low-income students enrolled, the district is considered to be in a “wealthy” county by the state based in part on the large number of high-value waterfront properties. As such, it loses out on additional state funding.
Jacob reiterated concerns over the funding calculation for Kent County during the July 16 meeting. The bulk of the school district’s funding comes from county coffers.
“For us to keep giving more money to the school board, it’s like, where are we going to take it from?” he said, adding that the hope was that Kirwan Commission was going to identify a means to help out the county. “Now we’ll just have to hold our breath and see what happens.”
During this year’s 90-day General Assembly session, a bill titled “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future” and aimed at funding Kirwan Commission recommendations passed the House and Senate.
Gov. Larry Hogan allowed it to become law without his signature, voicing his concerns about increased school funding without, as he put in a letter to the General Assembly leadership, “the fiscal safeguards and much-needed accountability our students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers deserve.”
While the bill bolsters state funding for schools in every county and Baltimore City, Kent County did not see the an increase in financial support at the same level as other districts.
Of the $75 million earmarked for a Teacher Salary Incentive Grant Program, Kent County is slated to receive $55,218. The next lowest district on the list, Talbot County, was set to see more than double that with $114,126. Queen Anne’s County was listed at $544,458.
More than $13 million of that $75 million will go to Prince George’s County. Baltimore County is next highest on the list with about $9.8 million, followed by Baltimore City at $8.4 million.
Another $65 million is listed in the bill “for the education of students with disabilities.”
Disbursements of those funds are broken out by percentage, with Kent County again last on the list receiving .19% of the $65 million, which comes to $124,390. Garrett County is next lowest with .26%. Prince George’s County is again the highest, slated to receive 15.45%, followed by Baltimore City at 14.87%.
The bill also includes disbursements to help districts provide “transitional supplemental instruction” for “struggling learners.”
Kent County is listed in the bill at $47,683 — making it yet again the district receiving the lowest amount. Worcester County is second lowest on the list with $78,959 while Prince George’s County is again at the top with $4.8 million, followed by Baltimore City at $4.1 million.
The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future received a unanimous vote in the state Senate, including a “yea” from Sen. Steve Hershey, R-36-Upper Shore. It passed 114-20 in the House, with Dels. Jay Jacobs, R-36-Kent, and Steve Arentz, R-36-Queen Anne’s, opposed and Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36-Caroline, in favor.
When it comes to the funding formula workgroup, the next step in Kirwan Commission efforts, concerns over the membership are not just coming from the Shore.
Bill Valentine, a former Allegany County commissioner and Kirwan Commission member, penned a letter to newspapers raising issues about the lack of county representation on the workgroup.
“A large financial burden will be placed on the counties to help fund Kirwan Commission proposals, and yet the workgroup consists mainly of state senators and delegates and education representatives. The counties will be tasked with funding these new unfunded mandates without having an equal voice at the table. Only one member will be representing county interests,” Valentine wrote.
In his letter, Valentine reiterates that counties provide significant financial allocations to their corresponding school districts.
“Counties are true funding partners for education, but once again have been closed out of funding discussions. This is the type of action that causes problems between county governments and local boards of education,” Valentine wrote.