Operating funds for K-12 education provided through the “Bridge to Excellence” or “Thornton” formulas generated much controversy during this session. The Governor’s proposed budget would have held the per pupil foundation amount to the FY2015 level of $6,860 for FY2016. For FY2017 through FY2020, the limit on annual inflation was to be reduced from 5% to 1%. As passed, the budget does not alter inflation in the per pupil foundation amount, making the FY2016 per pupil amount $6,954, a 1.4% increase over FY2015. The General Assembly restored the $68 million for Geographic Cost of Education Index (GCEI) that provides extra funds for counties with higher costs. However, the governor refused to restore the funding in a supplemental budget, and as of the RSC deadline, the Governor had not decided to spend these funds. SB 183 Education – Geographic Cost of Education – Requirement was amended and passed, requiring that GCEI be fully funded in FY2017 and beyond if the governor does not spend the GCEI funds for FY2016.
SB 334/HB 965 The Hunger Free Schools Act of 2015 (RSC 2, 3, 4) passed.
SB 885 Education Funding and Formulas – Amendment – Supermajority Vote (RSC 4). No action.
Bills to modify Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements for local share of funding either failed to pass both houses or received no action.
State Aid to Nonpublic Schools
A total of $10 million was allocated to the Aid to Nonpublic Schools Program for the purchase of textbooks and computer hardware and software. The budget, as introduced, provided $6 million. An additional $4 million was provided, contingent on full funding of GCEI. If GCEI is not fully funded, the budget specifies that this $4 million should go for GCEI. No action was taken on SB 405/HB 487 Maryland Education Credit (RSC 2, 3, 5). The General Assembly refused to accept a supplemental budget appropriation of $5 million for Student Assistance Organization Business Entity Grants, to businesses which give donations to "student assistance organizations" which then pay for financial assistance to students at non-public or public schools.
School Construction and Renovation
The FY2016 capital budget provides $280 million in General Obligation bonds for the Public School Construction Program (PSCP). Also included is $6.1 million in funds for the Aging Schools Program (RSC 1). $3.5 million for the Nonpublic Aging Schools Program was not in the governor’s original budget, but was added without hearings during budget Conference Committee negotiations.
HB 110 Qualified Zone Academy Bonds (QZABs) (RSC 1) passed authorizing $4.6 million for this program.
SB 595 Public Charter School Expansion and Improvement Act of 2015 (RSC 3) passed but was extensively amended. Instead of requiring a county-wide lottery for admission, charter schools can now give additional weight to students eligible for free and reduced-price meals, with disabilities, with limited English proficiency, who are homeless, or who are siblings of a currently enrolled student. A school can designate a geographic attendance area with below median income from which student placement in the public charter school is guaranteed for up to 35% of its available space. Operators with different multiple-year schools may provide placement for up to 35% of students who attended a public charter school operated by the same operator during the previous year.
Public charter schools that have been in existence for at least five years with a history of sound fiscal management, and student achievement that exceeds the average, can have more flexibility. The State board is required to develop criteria for additional flexibility. If an agreement is reached with the local chartering authority, an eligible public charter school may be exempt from requirements for textbooks, instructional programs, curricula, professional development, and scheduling. The bill makes local districts the chartering authorities. A public charter school must apply to the county board for a waiver of a county board policy, and the state board for a state board policy.
County boards can negotiate amendments to existing collective bargaining agreements to address the needs of a particular public charter school. But professional staff of a public charter school are subject to the same certification provisions for professional staff as other public schools.
Finally, the bill requires the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) and the Department of Legislative Services (DLS) to contract for a study of the amount of funding provided by local school systems to public charter
schools and traditional public schools, and report by October 31, 2016. MSDE is also required to provide technical assistance to charter schools, and to collect and disseminate information about best practices.
Curriculum and Accountability
SB 497/HB 452 Commission to Review Maryland's Use of Assessments and Testing in Public Schools (RSC 4, 5) passed. However, other bills for moratoriums on various tests or implementation of Common Core standards received no action or unfavorable reports. Likewise, there was no action on attempts to require assessments to include questions on government in SB 806/HB 1200 State Board of Education – High School Assessment – Government (RSC 3, 4).
SB 677/HB 1069 Education – Professional Development for Teachers and Providers of Early Childhood Education – Master Plan (RSC 4) passed.
SB 440 Education – Expenditures of Revenues – Reporting by County Boards of Education (RSC 3) received no action.
SB 390/HB 344 Education – Due Process Hearings for Children with Disabilities – Burden of Proof (RSC 2) received no action again this year.
For more details on education legislation which passed, see http://mgaleg.maryland.gov/Pubs/legislegal/2015rs-90-day-report.pdf.