The commission charged with overhauling Maryland's system of school financing narrowed yesterday the number of ways it might shake up state spending - including eliminating most scenarios that would have cut millions of dollars from the current funding level of politically influential Montgomery County.
Yesterday's actions move the task force closer to making its final recommendations, with decisions being made on how much aid to give school systems for educating children with extra needs - including nonnative English speakers, students with disabilities and those living in poverty.
But the group known as the Thornton Commission faces major obstacles before presenting a restructuring of how the state pays for public school education to the governor and General Assembly by the end of the year.
Among those hurdles will be rivalries among Maryland's 24 school systems over which ones would get the biggest shares of new funding and how the state and counties would pay for as much as a $2 billion increase in spending.
"We don't have any hope of succeeding if we start responding based on how jurisdictions would be affected," warned Alvin Thornton, the commission's chairman and a former Prince George's County school board chairman.
The panel has the twin goals of reducing inequities among districts and ensuring that all have enough money to meet state student achievement standards.
Two independent analyses of Maryland's school financing conducted for the panel in the spring found that the state needs to add about $2 billion to the $6.7 billion being spent on education by the local, state and federal governments. Such an increase would probably permit school systems to reduce elementary class sizes, offer full-day kindergarten and more summer school, and expand preschool programs for poor children.
In yesterday's meeting in Annapolis, task force members struggled through eight different scenarios for school financing - each having multiple variations.
One formula that was eliminated by the end of the afternoon would have cut $19 million from Montgomery County's present level of funding - and would have given Baltimore an extra $126 million and Prince George's County $271 million more in state aid.
Every scenario would result in a cut to state education aid to Talbot County - mostly because the system has the highest wealth per-pupil in Maryland, yet taxes little of that wealth for public education.
The formulas under consideration require substantial adjustments. For example, one scenario would give Baltimore a $326 million boost in state aid - but require the city to come up with $106 million more in local money.
"The implied local costs are enormous," said Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "This is not achieving your educational goal."
County officials also are worried about how much of the money would be expected to come from local tax revenues.
The commission's next meeting is Sept. 6.