Continuing to feel the economic crunch, Maryland county governments will be looking for new ways around a long-standing state law requiring them to fund their portion of local education budgets according to a formula known as Maintenance of Effort (MOE).
Maintenance of Effort was designed to ensure that county governments provide school systems with at least the same funding from to year on a per pupil basis.
The potential loss of MOE funding is likely to be seen as a serious blow by local school boards. They have argued that MOE should be the floor and not the ceiling in terms of local funding, given that MOE does not account for inflation or the seemingly endless stream of unfunded mandates handed down from state and federal authorities.
The Maryland Association of Counties (MACo) plans to push for legislation in the next Maryland General Assembly session that would “suspend or modify” Maintenance of Effort requirements, according to MACo’s incoming president and Harford County Executive David Craig. Craig told The Dagger that the decision to push for changes in the Maintenance of Effort requirement was the result of a vote by MACo board members and that it will be a primary thrust of the group’s legislative agenda in 2010. Craig said a variety of options would be explored including:
The exclusion of some non-classroom expenditures from the Maintenance of Effort requirement
Factoring the cost of teacher pensions into MOE, if the State decides to pass those costs on to local government
Rewriting the standards for waivers of MOE to include additional factors
Replacing the State Board of Education as the venue for waiver requests to be decided, in favor of another body such as the State Board of Public Works
That last item in particular, Craig said, was sparked by the State Board of Education’s refusal last year to grant waivers of the MOE requirements for Montgomery, Prince George’s and Wicomoco Counties despite the bad economy and despite some local board of education support for a waiver. Craig said “Obviously, the appeals process doesn’t work.”
Potential changes to Maintenance of Effort are not the only trouble on the horizon for local school budgets. Kathy Carmello, who manages governmental relations for Harford County Public Schools, told the Harford school board Monday that they should expect a potentially costly labor negotiations bill to return in the next legislative session and for the State to shift teacher pension costs to local governments in some form by 2012.