School Superintendent Terry Alban has unveiled an aggressive budget for the fiscal year that will begin July 1, with very significant resources devoted to helping students catch up after a year of essentially lost learning due to the pandemic.
This will be a monumental task, and no one knows for sure how it will work.
The fiscal 2022 budget for Frederick County Public Schools is $26 million larger than the current year. There are also great uncertainties in the funding that will be received both from the county and the state, in part because student enrollment declined. If the state does not change its rules on funding formulas, that could hurt our kids.
Nonetheless, Alban was optimistic in her statement announcing the $701 million spending plan:
“The FY22 budget was built to move our system forward. It was designed to enable us to recover, reconnect and reinvent. Recovery is the first step coming out of a crisis. We know the toll this pandemic is taking on our students academically, socially and emotionally. We must be prepared with the support needed to address all of their needs.”
She is absolutely correct. Studies nationally have shown students falling behind benchmarks because of the disruption. Anecdotally, teachers have told us about the difficulty of connecting with many of their students virtually. Some have said the students won’t even turn on the cameras on their laptops to interact with teachers.
Alban’s recommendations include $6.5 million specifically to address academic recovery and support mental health. This money will pay for math specialists for the high schools, digital learning lab monitors, school psychologists and trauma specialty therapists.
The superintendent also wants funding to expand the Virtual School summer session and the RISE program to middle schools, items that were cut from the fiscal 2021 budget.
Adding resources, strengthening summer school, and increasing extra instruction for students who fell behind are vitally important. This is a case of “all hands on deck.” The school system must both do all the basics and be creative in getting our children back up to speed.
This all is planned in expectation that something resembling a normal school year will open in the fall. That depends on a successful COVID-19 vaccination program, which is off to a disappointingly slow start.
Teachers and school staff are a high priority for vaccination, and we all hope that those essential workers will soon be protected and that will allow the schools to reopen. Kids need to be in school, but even more, they and the adults who serve them need to be safe.
The budget process this year is complicated by the normal funding formulas which never envisioned a system coping with a pandemic.
The amount of revenue FCPS receives from both the state and county is based on actual and projected enrollment. The actual enrollment for the 2020-2021 school year was 211 students fewer than last school year.
Now, however, the system is predicting a large enrollment spike when schools reopen in September. FCPS believes many of those “missing” students attended private schools that remained open during the pandemic or were homeschooled.
FCPS projects enrollment will grow by 584 students next school year. If that is correct, the system will need funding for about 74 additional staff positions at a cost of $5.5 million.
The state must not impose suddenly outmoded rules on maintenance of effort or rigid per-pupil spending. We may have to substantially increase spending to make reopening happen.
President-elect Joe Biden has said that reopening schools is a top priority for the incoming national administration. It needs to be the same for the state and the county as well.