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.

(7) comments

HappySeller2014

Nothingburger opinion piece here. Give me hard facts, numbers, and some good investigative journalism and I will have more respect.

Just a bunch of verbal diahhrea here. Anybody can say anything, just like I am here.

Thanks for the onion peel here, FNP. Can you dig about three to five layers deeper here?

gabrielshorn2013

All good points below. The "it's for the kids" arguments are thin when they're used year after year, after year. Where did the money go that was saved by not having in-person instruction? No heating/AC bills, no busses or fuel costs, and more. Is this accounted for in the proposal? If so, where can the proposal be found. C'mon FNP!

MD1756

I've come to not expect the FNP to do much real reporting, just the easy stuff from press releases. Don't ask the tough questions or try to do any analysis becuase that will cost money and maybe they'll only put out 5 papers a week (M- Th and then cover Fri - Sun in one paper).

MD1756

Let's see the parents pony up the money. Are they willing to give up their income tax credits and deductions in order to support education? If they did that, there would be more money available for education at the same time it would make the tax policy more equitable by making parents pay the same tax as those with no children.

HappySeller2014

@MD1756. You are wrong my friend. It would not make tax policy more equitable. Those of us with children probably pay more in taxes than you childless folks do.

It is called public goods economic theory. You just looking at the trees in front of you. Try looking at the forest without your blinders on.

EVERYTHING we purchase for our kids, except food and medical, is taxed in MD. You childless folks do not pay these taxes. If I buy a shirt, baseball bat and dinner over a 60 minute span for my kids, I pay taxes on all of it. Over 365 days, I pay a ton in taxes on my kids' needs.

You do not. You do not have kids.

Tax deductions and exemption and credits help defray these continual taxes we parents face to raise our kids on a daily basis. And to make what we pay as parents in taxes more equitable to what you childless folks pay.

You gotta wake up. It is not just about property taxes here buddy. And we folks with kids probably have bigger houses than you childless folks because we simply need more bedrooms and bathrooms, so we pay a higher property tax bill as well than you.

micky

You cannot BUY student achievement. Highest per pupil spending and lowest test scores, I give you Kent County and Baltimore City.

dabittle

Why is it that more money and larger school budgets are ALWAYS the answer to any and every student learning problem/question? School boards the world over can never get/have/spend enough taxpayer money. Just once, I'd like to hear a public school bureaucrat find a creative solution that doesn't require more taxpayer money. Where spending per pupil is concerned, beyond a certain point there is no correlation between dollars spent and positive student outcomes--just diminishing marginal returns.

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