For Worcester County schools, the mantra “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” comes to mind in regard to the legislation from the Kirwan Commission.
Last week, while acknowledging there are positives with the commission’s recommendations, Senator Mary Beth Carozza said her main concern is the commission ignored the state’s wealth formula, which uses property values to determine how much state aid to dole out to individual education systems across the state.
“The wealth formula is heavily weighted on property and not income which means it affects the level of funding Worcester receives,” she said. “A lot of that wealth and property income is second homeowners that don’t live here. It distorts our poverty numbers. … At this point it is not part of the recommendations of the funding work group.”
Measuring the success or failure of this commission from a local standpoint depends on this formula being changed. Though there are other positive education measures included in the commission’s report, addressing the unfair formula for education funding trumps any positives.
In a lengthy commentary piece distributed this week, Worcester County Commissioner Chip Bertino touched on similar concerns.
“… the unfortunate reality is that when it comes to education allocations by the state, Worcester County has been systemically and historically penalized for the very thing that has made us effective – the positive, engaged and results-oriented relationship among those vested with the responsibility to educate the children of our county. Worcester County’s best intentions to for years appropriately fund the school system based on local student need and available resources were held against us when Maintenance of Effort (MOE) became law in Maryland.
“Because it does not include variables such as poverty levels and demographics, the MOE formula as currently calculated, is unfair to Worcester County taxpayers who are forced to fund about 75% of the Board of Education’s operational budget, the highest of any other public-school jurisdiction in the state. By comparison, local taxpayers in the neighboring counties of Wicomico and Somerset fund only about 20% of their respective boards of education budgets. How is that fair?
“… Unfortunately, reviewing and revising the MOE funding formula to ensure fairness of state education funding to all school districts was ignored by the Kirwan Funding Group and by the full Kirwan Commission despite the fact this was a stated objective at the Commission’s inception. Rather than address and fix the inequities of the MOE formula suffered by Worcester and other counties, the Kirwan Commission recommendations bake the inequities into funding projections going forward, thus ensuring no relief for Worcester County taxpayers. That is not right.
“… In short – county taxpayers invest more per student than any other jurisdiction in the state and county taxpayers maintain our school facilities at an exceptionally high level without the benefit of a fair state education funding partnership. And the Kirwan recommendations, if adopted in their current form, would deepen the disparity between what is fair and what is not.
“… What we do know, is that regardless of what happens in Annapolis, Worcester County will do what it has always done – work together to ensure that we continue to provide students an exceptional education experience based on individual student needs, opportunities and county resources.”
It was disappointing the commission did not tackle crafting a new formula removing the weight on property values. Worcester County, due to its seaside geography, will always be in a vice grip when it comes to state education funding until that changes, no matter if more than one-third of students from impoverished homes. Until this formula is tweaked to ease the huge burden to fund our schools on the local government, we don’t see how the Kirwan Commission will result in positive change in Worcester schools.