Slicing the school spending safety net Maintenance of effort cut: It might help county politicians, but not school children.

February 04, 1996

LAST FALL, county leaders in Maryland complained that Gov. Parris N. Glendening was poised to cut the income tax rate to make himself look good to voters at their expense. They worried this would mean less state aid and higher local taxes. But the governor listened to them and in his budget increased both local aid and education aid, even as he was laying off hundreds of state employees and cutting other programs.

But that's not enough for the counties, which are trying to reduce projected future spending on schools by rolling back the state's 10-year-old "maintenance of effort" law. This statute now requires jurisdictions to spend at least as much per pupil as they spent the year before. The impetus for the law was the belief that, since education is so critical to this state's future, funding should not diminish. This has provided a safety net for schools.

The counties, unfortunately, fail to see the irony in asking for relief even as the state doles out more money. What's to stop county executives -- knowing the state is increasing its education aid -- from reducing county contributions to education and using the money to cut local taxes? That's good re-election politics but bad for the schools.

We have no problem with the legislature seeking to make school boards more accountable. We supported a measure that would have kept boards of education from shifting around money after their budgets are set. Inexplicably, that common-sense proposal has been removed from this bill.

What remains is a proposal to cut the maintenance of effort to 60 percent of the prior year's spending for new enrollment growth. The impact would be substantial in some jurisdictions -- a loss of $4 million for Baltimore County schools and $5 million for Prince ,, George's County classrooms. This isn't school spending reform. a ransom note from county politicians to educators: "Do the programs our way or you'll never see this $4 million."

This legislation should be killed and a study committee formed to devise a better plan that does not jeopardize Maryland's critical commitment to local schools. Education "reform" should not be used by local politicians and lobbying groups to short-change children so they can further their own agendas.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.