Saturday, November 21, 2009

Valerie Ervin on Maintenance of Effort

Following is an op-ed on the state's Maintenance of Effort (MOE) law by County Council Member Valerie Ervin, Chair of the Council's Education Committee, that appeared in the Gazette earlier this week.


As chairwoman of the Montgomery County Council's Education Committee, I am extremely disappointed with the Maryland attorney general's Nov. 4 opinion that Montgomery County did not meet the state's threshold funding level for public education (maintenance of effort) in fiscal year 2010. I believe that this decision elevated form over function.

The budget enacted by the County Council provided full funding of the school system's request for its educational and operational program. The County Council did not make additional program reductions to balance the county's operating budget. This important outcome was accomplished through the collaborative efforts of the local Board of Education, the county executive and the County Council.

Montgomery County found itself in a unique position this year. While revenues overall were decreasing, our school system benefited from increased state and federal education aid, largely related to stimulus funding. The County Council fully funded the schools with fewer local resources by relying on these other funding sources, and our school system agreed with this approach. However, state law requires local jurisdictions to fund at least as much per pupil as in the prior year with local taxpayer dollars, regardless of economic circumstances.

I appreciate and agree with the law's intent to support funding for education and prevent extreme shifts in school systems' resources for children. Montgomery County has never done otherwise. As our outstanding funding track record shows, the county has provided a total of $576.8 million above the legal threshold level over the last 10 years.

As events played out this spring, state law proved to be inflexible in the face unprecedented economic challenges. In my opinion, the law's structure should not be allowed to exceed reasonable funding levels or threaten to reduce educational funding through penalties.

Montgomery County now looks to the governor, the Maryland General Assembly and the state Board of Education to resolve the situation in a way that does not threaten the ability of the Montgomery County public school system to meet the educational needs of our children or unnecessarily impair the ability of Montgomery County to meet social service, health and public safety needs. The reality of the fiscal constraints Montgomery County faces must be recognized, and the continued good-faith effort of the county to fully support our public school system should be the benchmark by which we are measured.

Valerie Ervin, Silver Spring

The writer represents District 5 on the Montgomery County Council.