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Funding Might Decrease For Some Area Systems

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By Daniel de Vise and Rosalind S. Helderman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 24, 2009

School systems in Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties and across Southern Maryland are poised to get less money from the state next year than this year, a remarkable shift in fortunes after years of steady gains in aid.

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Total direct aid to public schools would decrease by $69.1 million, or 1.5 percent, in the fiscal year that begins in July in the budget proposal released by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) this week.

Most of the reductions would come from changes in funding formulas to schools. State officials eliminated a provision that had guaranteed school systems a funding increase of at least 1 percent every year, replacing it with a more modest pledge that most categories of funding will not decrease. They also reduced the state share of the costs to educate disabled public students in private facilities -- partly as an incentive to school systems to provide the services themselves, at a lower cost.

Many school systems were also affected by a budgeting error this fiscal year that short-changed the Montgomery County school system by $24 million. When the calculations were corrected in the 2010 budget, Montgomery schools got a larger share of the pie and other systems got less.

Prince George's schools face a reduction of $35.2 million, or 4 percent, in state aid. Baltimore schools would take a $23.6 million hit. Funding for Anne Arundel schools would decrease by $5.1 million.

"It's quite drastic for us," said Andrés Alonso, Baltimore schools chief.

O'Malley said yesterday that he understood the concerns of educators who are passionate about the need for more money for their schools. At the same time, he said, public schools would fare better in his budget than many other areas.

Total funding to public schools would rise $68 million, or 1 percent, to $5.4 billion in O'Malley's spending plan after accounting for an increase in the costs of teacher pensions, a burden the state could have shifted to counties.

O'Malley directed some of his comments at Alonso, who accused the administration yesterday in the Baltimore Sun of effectively rolling back a decade's worth of changes in education funding.

"I don't blame him for considering [the cuts] devastating," O'Malley said, "but I would ask him to consider the perspective of how much pain and suffering there is all throughout our state in the course of this national economic downturn."

School officials around the state say they will have to scale back austere budget plans.

The Anne Arundel system had expected at least $9 million more in state aid than the $273 million it is allotted in the spending plan. The county schools' $977 million budget assumes $3.6 million in new programs.

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