Fighting for Carroll's Fair Share of Education Funding

Senate Strategy Hits House Roadblocks

Marylanders for Joe GettyMarch 31, 2014

  

 

 

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF CARROLL COUNTY

 

March 28, 2014

 

Dear County Commissioners:

 

Many thanks for your letter of support in favor of Senate Bill 534 (Education - State Grant to Counties with Declining Aid) and House Bill 814. As you may be aware, these bills did not originally include Carroll County because they pertained only to school systems with less than 5,000 students. However, they have been amended with provisions from a bill sponsored by the Carroll County Senators (Senate Bill 431) that make Carroll County a jurisdiction whereby the Governor is required to restore state education aid based upon a 50% hold-harmless provision over the next two fiscal years.

 

After Senate Bill 170 (Budget Bill FY15) passed the Senate two weeks ago, Senate Bill 534 was amended with language that is dependent upon the budget bill. This new language does two things: (1) it incorporated references to Senate Budget Amendment 93 that guarantees the restoration of $1.1 million of education aid to Carroll County; and (2) it merged provisions from our Senate Bill 431 which likely will result in out-year supplemental grants of an additional $2 million of state aid to Carroll County.

 

Unfortunately, when the four Delegates from Carroll County voted against Senate Bill 170 on the House floor yesterday, it became highly unlikely that this $3.1 million of supplemental education funding for Carroll County will survive this session.

 

The Carroll County Delegates held the destiny for these two education funding provisions in their own hands. The email sent to the Carroll County Delegates from Assistant Superintendent Jonathan O'Neal very succinctly described the financial crisis in the school system and the legislative reality of the Delegate's decision to vote against Senate Bill 170 (click here).

 

The recent efforts by the House Delegation to write letters of support for supplemental education funding for Carroll County are irrelevant. Their meetings with Appropriations Chairman Norman Conway and Governor Martin O'Malley's staff are meaningless. The amendments that they offered in committee and on the House floor are worthless unless these efforts were accompanied by the Delegates' commitment to vote in favor of Senate Bill 170, i.e. the bill that actually appropriated the supplemental education funds to Carroll County.

 

The same legislative scenario was encountered last year when Senator David Brinkley offered an amendment on the Senate floor to restore $1.6 million to Carroll County Public Schools. We were amazed by the support from our Senate colleagues when Senator Brinkley's amendment received full support of the Senate with a unanimous floor vote of 47-0.

 

However, when this amendment was considered in the House last year, our Delegates were unable to protect this supplemental education funding as it was reduced from a 50% to a 25% hold-harmless and a trigger was added that required Governor O'Malley to re-allocate the funds.

 

When these funds were not forthcoming last fall, Senator Brinkley contacted the Governor's Chief Legislative Officer and was informed that the funds would not be re-allocated because our Carroll County Delegates did not vote last year in support of the budget. As a result of the Delegates' votes, Carroll County did not receive any of the $1.6 million supplemental funding from the 2013 Session.

 

Achieving our fair share of state education aid for Carroll County was a goal that both delegations discussed with the County Commissioners during our planning meetings for the 2014 Session. The Carroll County Senators have worked very hard this session to develop the best legislative strategy and to line up support among our Senate colleagues for approving the supplemental state education aid for Carroll County.

 

As described in Senator Getty's letter to the Carroll County House Delegation dated March 12 (click here), the Senate Budget Amendment 93 and the amended Senate Bill 534 are carefully designed with language that interacts between the two and creates a fail-safe guarantee to prevent the Governor from rejecting the supplemental education aid as he did last year.

 

When Senator Getty offered Budget Amendment 93 during the decision meeting of the Education, Business and Administration Subcommittee of the Budget & Tax Committee two weeks ago, the response that he received from a Montgomery County Senator was, "But your Delegates do not support the budget - why should we put this education supplement in for Carroll County?"

 

In light of this resistance, we persevered and the amendment was accepted. Let us emphasize this: Budget Amendment 93 and amended Senate Bill 534 that passed in the Senate was not a commonplace legislative accomplishment. It was pretty extraordinary for us to get the Senate to support a special carve-out just for Carroll County to cushion the impact of declining state aid for education.

 

We knew from the start that if the Carroll County Delegates failed to embrace this legislative strategy and voted against Senate Bill 170 - that their "no" votes would limit any opportunity to have sufficient leverage to restore the Carroll County funding in the budget conference committee. While their "no" votes may have been wise for them politically in the upcoming primary election campaign to prove who is the "true conservative," they turned their backs on their youngest constituents - the children in the public schools of Carroll County - and these actions have contributed to the financial crippling of the local school board.

 

So here is where we stand today on Senate Bill 534 that insures out-year funding: when the Carroll County Delegates failed to protect Senate Budget Amendment 93, then the corresponding language in Senate Bill 534 is ineffective and the bill has to be rewritten. In light of this, we expect that the House Ways and Means Committee will strip Carroll County entirely from the bill and return it to apply only to county school boards with a full-time equivalent enrollment of less than 5,000 students. Or, as an alternative, Garrett County will receive their additional state aid to education directly from the Governor's supplemental budget because Delegate Wendell Beitzel (a Republican from Garrett County) was one of five Republican Delegates who voted in favor of Senate Bill 170. If this happens, we will lose the opportunity to insure the out-year supplemental funding for Carroll County that was integral to the strategy of the Carroll County Senators.

 

When added together, the combination of the "no" votes on the budget by the Carroll County Delegates over the last two sessions will likely lead to a loss of $5 million to Carroll County Public Schools. At best, we might be able to restore $1.1 million through the conference committee process thus resulting in a net loss of $4 million. However, if the Carroll County Delegates are also committed to vote against the budget conference committee report, it negates our leverage in the Senate to argue that the $1.1 million for Carroll County Public Schools should be restored.

 

Delegate Susan Krebs made an impassioned plea on the House floor during the budget debate for an amendment that she knew had no chance to pass (it failed 40-88). However, unlike last year when the Governor held the trigger, this year's process put the triggering mechanism directly in the hands of Delegate Krebs and the other Carroll County Delegates. Their recent "hard work" was vastly misguided because it was unnecessary. They only needed to agree to vote for the bill that authorized the supplemental state aid to Carroll County and it would have insured over $3 million of education funding over the next three years.

 

In spite of this handicap created by our colleagues in the House, we pledge to continue to work hard over the last week of the session to get this education funding restored through the conference committee process. As always, we appreciate the support and efforts of the Carroll County Commissioners.

  

Very truly yours,

 

David Brinkley              Allan Kittleman             Joseph Getty

Senator, Dist. 4            Senator, Dist. 9              Senator, Dist. 5

 

 

 

 

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