As if our county schools have not been wrenched enough by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, now the system is threatened by a loss of millions of dollars in state aid because of a decline in enrollment.

During a recent joint meeting with the Frederick County Board of Education and school staff, County Council members were told that school enrollment fell by 211 students this year and that could equate to a funding loss of $2.5 million from the state

School leaders said that, because of the pandemic, some of those families chose to home-school their children or send them to private schools.

Leslie Pellegrino, the chief financial officer for FCPS, told the council that — while the decline of 211 students is a small percentage of the nearly 44,000 students enrolled in public schools — strict application of the state funding formula would harm our county.

On top of everything else the schools have been through this year, this is simply unacceptable.

Other school systems across the state and education advocates from around Maryland are pushing the state to hold all school districts harmless for any enrollment declines in this, the most unpredictable school year in more than a century.

Our school board and our local legislative delegation must join that lobbying effort and speak out loudly to preserve our funding. County Executive Jan Gardner and the council should also join that chorus.

While no official estimates have been released thus far, it is inevitable that local and state tax revenues will be hammered by the economic impact of the pandemic.

Comptroller Peter Franchot, Maryland’s tax collector, predicted in early October that if the labor market recovery slowed down, it would dramatically reduce revenue. And right on schedule, job creation in November was less than half of what it had been in September and October.

As Franchot reported, the labor market is key to state revenues as it directly impacts income tax withholding and sales tax, the two largest sources of state tax revenue.

Pellegrino, the school system’s finance chief, said the question is, how will Gov. Larry Hogan treat the funding formula in his budget?

“If he goes strictly by the formulas, and we get $2.5 million less in our funding, then the legislators have to find that funding from somewhere else if possible, and of course we know that, just like the county revenues, the state revenues are precarious through this pandemic,” she told council members.

The state must not abide strictly by funding formulas established during normal times during this most abnormal of all times.

The school leaders also are hoping that the state and county will be able to continue funding at the maintenance of effort level, which is determined by the previous year’s funding, plus a percentage. But there is no guarantee of that.

With the pandemic raging and the school system incurring additional expenses this year to cope with it, the maintenance of effort formula is likely to be disrupted as well. The district has received $14 million in funds from the federal relief programs and has used it to help transition to distance learning.

It is important that the state adjust to the extraordinary circumstances and not punish school systems for changes that were out of their control. We believe we can trust that Gov. Hogan will recognize that and take it into consideration when writing his budget for the next fiscal year.

(13) comments

timberman

Live within your means, maybe this is a concept that should not only be taught in our schools but followed by those in charge

francesca_easa

Also, can someone explain $2.5 million less for 211 kids? That seems awfully high.

TomWheatley

Seen another way, that is $119K per student or $5,238 million coming in for the 44K students. Way wrong here, but it makes people click on the article.

public-redux

I think you’re off by a factor of ten.

TomWheatley

Yes, typed in 21 and not 211 students. $11,312 per student and 44,000 times 11K yields 497M

public-redux

At least you got people to click on the article.

FlyFisherman

Average per pupil costs are $11,800 approximately. Times 211 students equals $2.5 million.

francesca_easa

Those who pay to send their students to private school, still have to pay taxes to fund County schools. No bus rides, reduced lighting, heating and cooling costs these past few months. No rental fees to pay venues for proms and graduation ceremonies. So how can there be that much of a financial strain? Wait, the new gambling taxes are here to save the schools 🤔

jloo

Less students? Same amount of funding? Why?

micky

Fewer students, fewer teachers !!

Dwasserba

Yes. Uncertain times. A percentage of emergency homeschoolers will become permanent converts. Some emergency private school parents will stay beyond necessity but in my experience, the switch for most public school parents who try it, is not easy - high parent involvement is expected or outright required, participation in endless fundraising also usually necessary, and there are nuances of culture that can grate. Simply put, if a family enrolls in a Catholic school for the opportunity to just drop off and pick up and not teach virtually, know that the curriculum is imbued with Catholicism or it is not what it should be. Done right, indifferent families will make skid marks to return to public schools. But sadly, it is hard times for private schools everywhere as some families fearing in-person and faced with paying for Catholic virtual schooling, peeled off to public schools'version. As some private schools close or continue to struggle, parents may turn to public schools just for the stability. I would not be surprised if enrollment booms. Stability will be very attractive.

jsklinelga

Is the handwriting on the wall? What will happen if enrollment continues to decline? That is a real possibility.

Our country is deeply divided. One of the foremost issues during the past elections was our public education system. Another major issue was the make-up of the Supreme Court. The two actually go hand in hand. What happens if SCOTUS rulings mandate that institutions which receive federal assistance, such as the Maryland Board of Education, must allocate their money in a fair and neutral way between public union and private schools just as long as both serve the general public?

public-redux

I expect you would strenuously object if SCOTUS legislated in the way you have described. Right?

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