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Funding Our Schools

I started my work in public service by volunteering in the copy room of my daughters’ elementary school. From there I went to the PTA, then to Montgomery County Board of Education, the Maryland House of Delegates and now the State Senate.

I love the work I do here in Annapolis, but even now, as I listen to budget hearings, debate tax issues and discuss policy, my heart is still in the copy room. Volunteering in our public schools, I saw firsthand how decisions made in Annapolis effect our children and our families. And it is the memories of volunteering in the copy room that drive my decisions here in Annapolis, especially as they relate to education.

Maryland’s public schools have again been ranked number one in the county and that ranking has come about from a commitment on all levels to fund, support and improve our educational system. The funding commitment is not new. In 1984, the General Assembly established the Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirement for K-12 to ensure that the cost of education is shared and to provide the local boards of education with predictable and stable funding. The Maintenance of Effort law requires a county to appropriate per pupil operating budget funds to the local school system in an amount not less than the per pupil amount provided in the prior year.

The MOE law has given our school boards the funding necessary to move ahead, but the law has its flaws. In good economic times, counties made or exceeded the requirements for MOE, but in difficult financial times, counties began to request waivers from the requirement. In 1996, the General Assembly established a process by which counties could request a temporary or partial waiver from the MOE requirement. These waivers when granted, protect the counties from penalties, but do not necessarily protect the school systems from cuts.

I have been appointed to a Senate task force which is looking at ways to strengthen and improve MOE requirements and I am introducing legislation to address this important issue. The legislation I am proposing will continue to require counties to meet their MOE requirements, but will have a formula built in so those counties who exceed the MOE requirement will not be penalized in a year when they fail to meet the requirement. However, while the bill allows for a waiver of penalty, it will not let counties rebase their MOE requirements all the way back to prior year levels, which will protect our schools from large funding cuts. I will keep you updated as this bill evolves and moves through the legislative process.

I learned so much from volunteering in the copy room those many years ago. I saw how important every dollar is to our children, our teachers and our administrators. I saw how our teachers have become more than just teachers of academic subjects. They are often a child’s adult role model, their moral compass and their safety net. I saw how free lunches in our schools are often the only real meal a child would get each day. And I saw how our children thrive in a safe, caring and stimulating environment. By protecting our teachers, we are protecting our students. And by funding education we are funding our future. I am committed to finding the answers to these difficult funding questions, so the current parents volunteering in the copy room will see the positive effects of the decisions made in Annapolis. And, as always, I welcome your input on this and any other issue that is important to you.

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