The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is clearly not an unfunded mandate. It is fully funded through 2026 and there is a commitment from the state to fund it for all 10 years.
Commissioner Eric Fiori (Dist. 3), in the January 12th article, Commissioners look to challenges in ’23, said while discussing the Blueprint:
“We don’t have a number yet, but it’ll be a substantial burden on the budget … As a more rural county that funds our schools significantly on the backs of our local taxpayers and state dollars, it’s a large concern and a one-size-fits-all package…”
If you “don’t have a number yet,” how can you possibly claim that it will be a “burden?”
According to the administration, in the current year (FY23), Worcester is already receiving approximately $2.5 million in Blueprint related funding. Included in this total is $936,033 to support the all day pre-k programs, $779,493 in Concentration of Poverty grants and $360,077 to help support costs related to providing services to our Special Education students. We will in all likelihood receive at least that amount for the upcoming budget.
The annual funding requirement for local counties is the same as it always has been: meeting Maintenance of Effort. This is a statute written to ensure that counties don’t balance their budgets or keep taxes low by cutting education spending. MOE is mandated by the state and is part of existing education funding law.
Counties are required to maintain a minimum annual appropriation to the Local Education Agency (school system) budget that is the greater of either
1) the local share of the foundation program or
2) the per pupil amount provided in the previous year.
Most counties including Worcester, have historically contributed funds in excess of their required foundation amount. If we do need additional money to meet maintenance of effort, we could easily raise this money by increasing our local tax rate (the lowest in the state). Local officials set the rates, which range between 2.25% and 3.20% for the current tax year. Wicomico County, a poorer county has a rate of 3.2% while Worcester County’s rate is only 2.25%.
The State’s role in funding education is to make sure that every child in Maryland receives a quality education regardless of their zip code. Since counties use property taxes to fund the local share, they have very different abilities to fund their schools. The wealth of a county should not determine the quality of each child’s education. Therefore, the percentage of state and local funding varies dependent on the amount of property taxes a jurisdiction can raise. Worcester County has one of the highest property values in the state and thus can raise a significantly higher amount of dollars.
We hope our Commissioners will take the time to understand both the promised funding and the goal of The Blueprint before they make broad statements against it. This is clearly not an unfunded mandate but a continued partnership between the state and the counties to create world class schools for every Maryland student.