Reductions made in funding for primary public education
Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley released his budget proposal for the fiscal year 2010 in a Jan. 21 press conference, advocating a 1.3 percent reduction to the state's operating budget. In his proposal, O'Malley recommended firing 700 state employees, abolishing 1,000 vacant government positions and reducing funding for primary public education and other state programs to alleviate a $2 billion budget shortfall.A proposed operating budget of $14.4 billion would be made possible by cuts to domestic programs, including a $310 million reduction in state aid to local jurisdictions, an $81 million reduction in funding for Medicaid programs and a $50 million decrease in the funding of community colleges, according to The Baltimore Sun. O'Malley explained that a worsening economy and mounting budget deficit make such cuts necessary. "These are not easy times, and here in Maryland we haven't been immune to the national recession. Our families are struggling. Our family-owned businesses are struggling. And just as people have to find ways to do more with less, so too must those of us in the government," he wrote in last month's press release.
Many lawmakers in the Maryland General Assembly expressed concern over O'Malley's recommendation to lay off 700 state employees and they hope to make revisions in legislative sessions held through April. Jane Wampler, spokesperson for Senator Ulysses Currie, representing Prince George's County in the Maryland State Senate, explained that legislators will be working closely with Governor O'Malley to address the firing of state employees. "Senator Currie is disappointed that it has to be an option," she said. "We're working to strike more vacant positions before we lay off state employees."
The proposed $310 million reduction in state aid to local jurisdictions will also impact primary public education systems in Maryland, which receive three-fourths of their funding from county governments. O'Malley's pledge to support public education with a $260.3 million investment in public school construction and $68.3 million increase in funding to the Thornton Bridge to Excellence Plan, passed in 2002 to boost student performance and close the achievement gap, will not save many school districts from making significant budget cuts, such as in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendant Jerry Weast's budget proposal's inclusion of the lowest requested increase ($40.2 million, or 1.9 percent) in 20 years.
Steve Simon, Director of the Public Information Office at MCPS, explained that O'Malley's budget proposal is slightly misleading. "When you look deeper, you start to see that the operating budget is in fact a reduction overall," he said.
O'Malley also recommended delaying next year's expansion of the Geographic Cost of Education Index, a program that provides additional funding to Montgomery and Prince George's County Public Schools through an education funding formula, to save $88 million. The school systems, which are included in the program because the cost of providing education is more expensive than in other counties, will also receive less state funding this year. "We'll only receive half of what we were supposed to get, which effectively costs us $20 million," Simon said. "But we recognize the severity of the situation and understand that he's trying to close the budget gap for next year."
Although next year's budget does not look very promising, Simon said, MCPS will fare better than many other school systems. "We're going through a very difficult time economically, and the budget does not look very good," he said. "But there was a huge error made at the state level in that we were underfunded $24 million. Governor O'Malley has pledged to give us that money back."
Despite advising a reduction in funding for primary public education, Governor O'Malley wants to provide $22 million to continue the current tuition freeze at Maryland universities. Wampler explained that Senator Currie does not support the tuition freeze, given deteriorating conditions in the state economy. "It costs too much money," she said. "He wants to make tuition affordable so that more kids can go to school, but the taxpayer has to fill that void."
Lawmakers in Maryland anticipate receiving at least $350 million from a federal stimulus package pending in Congress, but they will have to make additional budget cuts to lessen a projected $713 million shortage for fiscal year 2011. "We'll probably have to cut some more from the budget," Wampler said. "Everything is on the table - employees, teachers, every program. We'll squeeze out every last penny."
Lauren Kestner. Lauren Kestner loves Trader Joe's chocolates, cheesy television soap operas, summer trips to Lake Anna, coffee ice cream from Coldstone Creamery, hikes at Northwest Branch and shopping at Heritage. Playing soccer for Blair or her MSC club team and running at the gym consumes much … More »