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Maryland School Districts With Declining Enrollment Could Get Some Financial Help

Maryland lawmakers are considering two bills that would help school districts in areas with declining student enrollment.

The Cumberland Times-News reports that the bills, one filed in the House and a companion piece filed in the Senate, would require the state to "make up the difference to a school system if the state funding formula cut funds in a district in declining enrollment. The amount triggering the added funding would vary by year and how much funding was cut by the state."

Officials said the change would prevent local lawmakers from having to fight for special appropriations annually. The story cites Garrett County, which has lost 18.5 percent of its budget during the past four years, in part because of declining enrollment.

"The fight for supplemental funding is getting tougher and tougher. There's a prevailing feeling that counties are going to have to help themselves," said Wendell Beitzel, a Republican who introduced the House version of the bill.

Across the country, rural schools with declining enrollment face this same issue.

"When the enrollment decline is chronic, it generates serious financial distress because of the loss of per-pupil state revenue," according to the Rural School and Community Trust, a rural education advocacy group. "This financial hemorrhage usually results in deeps cuts in programs, staff, and resources."

The group published a report in 2006 that highlighted the role of state educational policy in helping or hurting districts with declining enrollment, and it included 20 policy recommendations focused on state funding formulas.

"Though there is no silver bullet that will 'fix' all problems associated with declining enrollment, these recommended state and local policies can accomplish two goals: (1) Buy time and give communities and economies time to rebound and/or adjust to population and revenue loss; and (2) Ensure that all students in communities with declining enrollment are offered an excellent education," according to the Rural Trust.

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