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Maryland state and local governments urged to increase school funding by $2.6 billion

Study recommends Maryland spend $2.6 billion more on public schools.

Maryland should spend $2.6 billion more on public education and revamp the formula used to calculate how much is spent on each school district, according to a two-year study by a national consulting firm.

The 620-page report was presented to a state commission Thursday as the panel prepared to spend a year deliberating over the details of the complex funding formula. The General Assembly is expected to base any change to Maryland's school funding laws on the study's recommendations.

The commission, called the Kirwan Commission because it is headed by former University System of Maryland Chancellor William "Brit" Kirwan, is charged with forging consensus on how much money state and local governments should spend on public schools.

As the consultants laid out their recommendations in Annapolis, some commissioners bristled.

Sen. Stephen M. Waugh, a St. Mary's County Republican, noted a lack of specific achievement goals.

"What am I going to get for an additional $3 billion?" Waugh said. "I don't see the return on investment. All I see is we want to spend $3 billion."

The study says that the state should spend another $1.9 billion and local governments another $700 million in future years. That would bring state and local government spending to $13 billion a year. Maryland has roughly 900,000 students in public schools.

Del. Maggie McIntosh is a member of the Kirwan Commission. The Baltimore Democrat questioned how state and local governments could afford that amount.

"I am cautious about setting high expectations," McIntosh said. "We know we have a deficit."

The Board of Revenue Estimates projected in September that the state would collect $800 million less in tax revenue than expected in the next two budget years. The board will meet again this month.

McIntosh, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said she wants the city to spend more money on its schools. She plans to work with Baltimore's new Mayor Catherine E. Pugh, a former state senator, to make that happen.

McIntosh also said the state should provide more funding to Baltimore and other school districts that receive too little money to adequately educate students.

Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Montgomery County Democrat, said a similar increase in funding was approved about 15 years ago.

In 2001, the same consulting firm — now Augenblick, Palaich and Associates — delivered an "adequacy study" to what was then the Thornton Commission. The study recommended a radical new formula for school funding.

Members of the General Assembly declared the recommendation dead on arrival, Madaleno recalled. But over time, the legislature made changes to the recommendations and approved the Bridge to Excellence Act, which gave public schools $1.6 billion in new money from 2002 to 2008.

"The consultants team has put out a variety of new ideas that are fresh for Maryland and have never been implemented anywhere in the country," said Madaleno, also a member of the commission.

David R. Brinkley, Gov. Larry Hogan's budget secretary and a member of the commission, said the governor wants the panel to examine many options in response to the consultants' recommendations.

While some small school districts in the nation are funded largely by local property taxes, Maryland legislators have attempted to ensure students who grow up in less affluent areas don't have fewer resources. The state distributes the money based on a formula. As a result, the state spends more money in some school districts than the local government does.

The study proposes several major changes in that formula. First, the consultants recommend increasing the base amount that is spent on each child from $6,900 to $10,800.

The large increase is offset by a decrease in the amount spent on most students versus those who need additional support.

School districts now get extra money for students living in poverty and who have special needs, as well as those who are new immigrants learning English. Under the new formula, districts would get far less extra money for those students than they do now.

The study also recommends providing prekindergarten for every student, rather than just some students. And it recommends changing how a jurisdiction's wealth is calculated. Wealthier jurisdictions receive less state funding for schools.

Baltimore, for instance, has high taxes but less wealth to draw on than Montgomery or Howard counties, so it gets more money from the state.

There are several "different things that they are doing to level the playing field to allow counties to pay what they can afford to pay," said Bebe Verdery, education reform director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland.

Madaleno said the new local wealth calculation is likely to be controversial. It would significantly alter funding for some jurisdictions.

Although all school districts would get more money overall, the increases would be far larger in some. Montgomery County, for instance, would lose some state funding. Local taxpayers would then be asked to pay more.

Montgomery would see a 25 percent increase in its state and local aid while Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties would see increases of about one-third.

Harford and Prince George's counties would see 40 percent overall increases, while Howard County would see an 8 percent increase.

"School systems had been losing ground year after year across the state," Verdery said. "This figure looks big because we have fallen so far behind."

Verdery said between 2009 and 2011, when the state decided to cut annual increases for inflation as well as some other funds, school districts lost about $500 million in funding.

Madaleno said the study is the beginning of a long discussion about what is needed and what taxpayers can afford.

He predicted that once the commission's recommendations go to the General Assembly, there would be compromises to make the spending plan more politically palatable.

"Is Larry Hogan ever going to sign a bill that zeros out [state] funding for several counties on the Eastern Shore because of their high wealth?" Madaleno said.

He was referring to a formula developed by the consultants that would require Talbot, Kent and Worcester counties to bear 100 percent of K-12 education costs. The three counties make up a chunk of the Republican governor's political base.

The Maryland State Education Association, which represents the majority of the state's public school teachers, applauded the study.

"This independent, fact-based analysis of Maryland public school funding lays out exactly the kind of bold, comprehensive investment our state needs to give every child an opportunity at future success," said Sean Johnson, the association's legislative director.

"We owe it to our kids to overcome political fears and find a way to better invest in their education."

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

mdresser@baltsun.com

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