Parents and the county teachers union on Thursday urged the Montgomery County Council to add more school funding on top of what’s recommended in County Executive Isiah Leggett’s proposed FY 2015 operating budget.
Leggett last month recommended funding MCPS $26 million over the state-mandated minimum, the first time in six years he’s recommended going over that mark. But MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr and the Board of Education are seeking funding that is $51.7 million over the maintenance of effort minimum.
It sets up what could be a tough negotiation and thorny political issue now that the budget is before the County Council.
County officials have argued the maintenance of effort law unfairly ties the hands of county governments by requiring counties to fund their school systems at the same per-pupil level as the previous fiscal year, or face fines and reduced state aid.
The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) will again distribute what’s thought to be a widely influential “Apple Ballot” of endorsed candidates during the primary election on June 24. On Thursday, MCEA President Doug Prouty told the Council that programs for the school system’s neediest students are at risk if the county doesn’t fund the budget to the level requested by MCPS.
“There is no issue of greater importance for MCEA and MCPS than closing the achievement gap and providing opportunities for all of our students,” Prouty said.
The MCEA has identified $3 million to buy new tablet technology, $1 million to reduce English and Math class sizes in high poverty high schools and $1.2 million to add counselors and school psychologists as specific investments that would be at risk.
Elise Browne Hughes, one of the PTA coordinators for the Whitman High School cluster, asked council members not to let their distaste of the maintenance of effort law prevent them from upping the amount of funding in the school budget.
“As you develop this budget, we urge you to consider the county executive’s recommendations for school funding as a starting point to build upon, with an aim to fully fund the Board of Education’s request,” Hughes said. “Now, it’s up to you to make the next move and approve an operating budget that does right by our children and schools. Don’t penalize them because you oppose a state law designed to protect public education in counties that neglect their local funding responsibilities — a designation so contrary to the values of Montgomery County.”
The Montgomery County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations (MCCPTA) began applying the political pressure even before Leggett officially released his recommended budget.
“I am optimistic that our local leaders will do right by our children and school. And I know the conclusions I am going to draw before I head to the ballot box in June if the school budget is not fully funded or if the conversations turn back again to MOE (Maintenance of Effort) this spring,” wrote MCCPTA President Janette Gilman in an open letter last month. “And I know 50,000+ Montgomery County PTA members — and registered voters — who will do exactly the same.”
The Council’s Education Committee is set to start its work on the MCPS budget on April 22.