New Proposals for Improved State Aid for Targeted Needs

December 21, 2001
The following is the text of a letter sent yesterday [Thursday, December 20] to Maryland Governor Parris N. Glendening on proposed modifications to the final recommendations of the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence (Thornton Commission). The letter was sent by County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, County Council President Steven A. Silverman, Board of Education President Reginald M. Felton, and Dr. Jerry D. Weast, superintendent of schools.

The unified county proposal recommends two fair and equitable ways in which to provide improved state aid targeted to students with special needs -- students with disabilities, students at risk of failure due to poverty, and students with limited English proficiency -- regardless of where they live in Maryland. The proposal is designed to ensure fairness for every student.

Note: See attached files for financial data on the proposed basic education grant modifications and the kindergarten facilities modification.

December 20, 2001

The Honorable Parris N. Glendening
Governor of Maryland
State House
Annapolis, Maryland 21401

Dear Governor Glendening:

We are writing to request your consideration of two fair and equitable modifications to the final recommendations of the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence that would help guarantee fairness for every student. Our goal is to expand the State’s investment for certain targeted students in a way that resolves the inherent unfairness of the Commission’s proposed resource allocation. With the inclusion of these modifications, it is our hope that the recommendations of the Commission would be adopted by the General Assembly.

Included in its final report, the Commission correctly recommends the creation of three categorical funding programs aimed at special student populations: special education students, students at risk of failure due to poverty, and students with limited English proficiency. Funding aimed at these groups of students already exists in a variety of programs and with a variety of funding distribution methodologies. The Commission recommends that the existing funding programs be eliminated and replaced with substantially increased, wealth-based funding formulas targeted at each of these students groups.

However, as a result of the Commission’s decision to entirely wealth-base this targeted funding, students with special needs in 10 of Maryland’s school systems representing more than half of the total student enrollment of the State will potentially be denied access to State support for a fair and adequate education. Their needs will be left entirely to the individual local government’s ability and willingness to pay for the services they need. Considering the special needs of these students and our obligation to their education and their future, we cannot and should not allow this to occur. If we are serious about closing the achievement gap, the State needs to provide meaningful, basic funding for each special needs student in every school system.

To address this concern, we are proposing a simple and fair modification to the Commission’s three categorical funding programs that will result in fairness for all students (see enclosed Basic Grant Proposal). Specifically, we propose that the wealth adjustment for the

three programs be “upward-only.” Thus, each special needs student, no matter where they reside, would receive a minimum State grant equal to 50% of the per pupil cost of education identified by the Commission. In addition, since the formulas would contain an upward adjustment based on wealth, students in low wealth jurisdictions would receive a higher grant in recognition of the local government’s inability to provide additional resources. This modification would require additional State funds to implement the Commission’s recommendations, while not reducing funding for any jurisdiction below the Commission’s recommended amount.

This change would not affect the wealth-based approach to the Basic Current Expense Formula and would be consistent with the hybrid approach the State and Federal governments currently use to target funding to special student populations. It is similar to the Commission’s recommendation concerning a cost-of-living component to the main funding formula. The Commission is recommending that a cost-of-living factor, to be incorporated in the formula by Fiscal Year 2005, would be an upward-only adjustment. Thus, low-cost jurisdictions would not be penalized. The same concept should be applied here. A child with special educational needs should not be penalized and their basic educational opportunity should not be jeopardized because of where they live. We understand that the Commission sought equity in resources. We agree to the extent that the State should not abdicate its responsibility to help students with special needs. We will continue to provide substantially more in local funding. Even with the inclusion of this modification, the percentage of the State’s funding that is wealth-equalized would still be significantly higher than it is today.

The Commission report also contains a recommendation to mandate each school system to provide full-day kindergarten to every child by the 2006-07 school year. The Commission further recommends that pre-k programs be offered to all poor children as well by the same year. While these are laudable goals, the Commission did not address the facilities implications of these significant recommendations. In order to help each school system develop the facilities necessary to accommodate these programs, we are proposing that an additional flat capital grant equal to $10,000 per kindergartner be included. This grant would be one-time-only and could be funded with bond proceeds. One of the clear deficiencies of the Commission’s report is its lack of attention to the issue of adequate facilities. The inclusion of this capital grant would help alleviate some of the space difficulties every school system will have as it attempts to implement these two recommendations.

We certainly recognize the serious fiscal challenges that currently face the State. However, like you, we also are committed to providing every child with an excellent educational opportunity. Over the past several years, Montgomery County has dramatically increased its funding of programs aimed at special needs students. We know that not every jurisdiction has the ability or will to do this. But that does not mean that jurisdictions that support education should be penalized by the loss of equitable State aid.

In order to ensure that every student across the State has an equal and fair opportunity to succeed, we hope you will join us in supporting these modifications to the Commission’s recommendations.

Thank you and best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.


Douglas M. Duncan
County Executive

Steven A. Silverman
Montgomery County Council

Reginald Felton
Montgomery County Board of Education

Jerry D. Weast
Montgomery County Public Schools

Note -- See links to PDF files on financial information below:

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