Wednesday, February 18, 2015

How the Governor’s Budget Increases in Money for Education Actually Decreases Money per Student and Hurts Prince George’s County

Governor Hogan proposed his new budget on January 23rd.  In the budget message he said there was record funding for K-12 education.  Yet a lot of Democrats have responded that there will actually be less funding, especially for Prince George’s County.  So let me try to explain why his budget means less money for education.

In 2002, the Maryland Legislature passed the Bridge to Excellence Act, commonly referred to as Thornton.  It established a state school aid formula to ensure that schools have the resources necessary to provide every child with an adequate and equitable education.  Thornton has been adjusted primarily by changes in enrollment and cost of living. Local school systems are given broad flexibility to decide how to best utilize state aid to meet the needs of their students.

How Thornton Works

Thornton is designed to ensure that the quality of your child’s education is not determined by your zip code. Thornton is made up of several programs that determine how much funding each of Maryland’s 24 local schools systems will receive from the state for operating costs.

Foundation Program

The foundation program provides each system with a basic per-pupil funding amount, which is adjusted by an inflation factor each year. The per-pupil amount—which was $6,860 in fiscal year 2015—is then adjusted for every local jurisdiction depending on its property value and income levels. This ensures an equitable funding system, in which counties with less wealth (and therefore less ability to cover educational costs) receive a greater share of state aid.

At-Risk Programs

In addition to the wealth-adjusted per-pupil foundation amount, school systems receive supplemental aid for every child who needs additional resources to receive a high-quality education. There are three programs:

Compensatory Program: The compensatory program is designed to enable schools to provide extra support to students coming from backgrounds of poverty. For every student who qualifies for Free and Reduced-Price Meals, school systems receive additional grants.

Limited English Proficiency: For every student who is learning English as a second language, school systems receive an extra amount per student.

Special Education: For every student receiving special education services, school systems receive additional increases.

The state also helps even the playing field and account for additional expenses with other programs.

Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI): Since the cost of education is different across the state, the state provides additional funding through the GCEI to make up the difference for counties where delivering education is more expensive.

Net Taxable Income (NTI) Grants: One of the factors in calculating the per-pupil foundation amount  was changed to account for taxpayers who file later in the year and, in turn, cause the calculation to increase for certain counties and therefore reduce their per-pupil foundation amount. To lessen the pain of this adjustment, counties that lose funding as a result of this change have received NTI grants.

Transportation: The state provides grants to assist local systems with the cost of transporting students to school. The grant includes a separate component for the transportation of students with disabilities, which equals $1,000 per student requiring special transportation enrolled in the school system the prior fiscal year.

Gov. Hogan’s Proposed Education Cuts

Gov. Hogan’s proposed budget would cut $144 million from the funding that school systems are currently scheduled to receive through the full funding of Thornton. This cut would take place in three parts of the formula:

Inflation Factor: By state law, foundation program funding is supposed to adjust for inflation each year. But Gov. Hogan’s proposal would eliminate any adjustment for inflation this year—freezing the per-pupil foundation amount at last year’s level. This limitation of the inflation factor results in $63 million in cuts for next year’s budget.

GCEI:   Gov. Hogan has slashed GCEI funding in half. That results in $68 million less statewide and $20 million less for Prince George’s County.

NTI Grants: Instead of increasing the NTI grants in the third year of a five-year phase-in, Gov. Hogan has proposed freezing the grant amount at last year’s level. This results in a $12 million cut statewide. 

In Prince George’s County the student enrollment is expected to increase by over 2,300 students next year. Our school district receives state aid equivalent to $9,334 per student per year.  Just to keep up with the increased student enrollment, our County would need $21 million in additional funds in the next fiscal year.  In addition, our County is expected to have 1,500 more students with limited English proficiency, and 5,000 more students who are eligible for free and increased meals. Though there is $14 million more in the Governor’s budget for next year for Prince George’s County than is being spent this year, the amount that is below the levels that the Thornton formulas require is $38 million.  It is a decrease of $312 per pupil - the highest per-pupil reduction of any County in Maryland.  It could mean an increase of class size of 4-6 students.

These cuts are unacceptable, and the Prince George’s Delegation will do everything possible to restore the money.

Let your voice be heard: email to demand that he restore full funding for education.