Education Issues of the 2012 Legislative Session
Thornton/Maintenance of Effort
In 2002, the General Assembly passed the Bridge to Excellence in Education Act (also known as the Thornton Plan) which provided historic increased levels of educational funding and provided additional funds to counties with large concentrations of low-income and special needs students. Included in this Act was a Maintenance of Effort (MOE) provision that required counties to sustain school funding year to year or face a penalty. In the 2011 legislative session, the assembly flat-funded the per-pupil amount and counties took this as an opportunity to decrease their funding levels, thereby not adhering to the MOE requirement. Counties argue that since the state did not increase funding, the school districts did not have to sustain their funding levels either. Many education advocates will be pushing amendments to the Thornton Plan law that, among other things, ensure counties are held accountable for sustaining funding levels and provides a mechanism for counties to expand local revenue options for education.
Currently, the state pays the full cost of public school pensions and some legislative leaders, including Senate President Mike Miller, plan to introduce legislation this session that would require counties to cover half of those costs. Supporters of cost-sharing argue that since local governing bodies approve the level of teachers pay, then they should bear the costs of those decisions since higher pay equals higher pension benefits upon retirement. On the other hand, counties are severely limited on raising revenues and are not able to handle this type of cost, particularly in this economy. Should the cost-sharing between the state and local governments be enacted, counties would face enormous budget pressures that would surely have a negative impact on already strained school district budgets.
In early January, Governor O’Malley proposed a $370 million public school construction plan that aims to improve the state’s ailing school infrastructure. This is a major issue across the state, and in Baltimore City in particular, with many classrooms lacking adequate lighting, heat, air conditioning and space that can accommodate technological needs. More details will be included in the governor’s budget which must be released by January 18th.