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Maryland School Funding Gets Fuzzy After Budget Crack-Up

Legislators in Annapolis stunned Gov. Martin O'Malley, the media, and even themselves when they failed to pass a balanced budget plan on Monday, the last day of the legislative session, and put hundreds of millions of dollars in education funding in jeopardy.

The budget belly flop was precipitated by the failure of legislators to vote on a proposal from O'Malley to increase taxes on those earning more than $100,000 annually. Legislators now face the prospect of an awkward special session to pass a new budget, or there will be cuts to various areas of state government, including education aid to public school systems.

A flummoxed O'Malley, who has fellow Democrats as bosses in both legislative chambers, told The Gazette of Politics and Business, "I'm trying to find the right word. I don't know that there is one word. What I can say is that in the budget that was passed, we failed to protect the priorities that allow our state to move forward."

If a special session doesn't clear up the budget fiasco, the state will be required to eliminate about $205 million in various forms of aid to K-12 schools, according to information from O'Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory and state department of education spokesman William Reinhard. Of that amount, $128 million would be lost to the state's Geographic Cost of Education Index, which takes into account and helps make up for regional differences in education costs. Per-pupil state spending would drop by $70.9 million in total, through the reduction of the state's per-pupil spending to $6,650 from $6,761.The state would also cut $5.2 million in teacher quality incentives and National Board certification fees. (The $205 million figure doesn't include a $5 million cut to libraries.)

It's important to point out that nothing is final until July 1, when the 2013 fiscal budget kicks in, so legislators have about 80 days to come up with an alternative budget plan. If they do, the "Doomsday" budget being decried by O'Malley may turn out to be remembered only for how exaggerated the fears were about it. But for a state under one-party control that prides itself on its school finance plan, it is an interesting development.

Maryland lawmakers recently approved a new requirement for counties' "maintenance of effort" education funding. School spending advocates applauded the move, although counties have been less than thrilled with the newly-clarified, and generally higher, local funding floor for education. O'Malley happily announced signing that bill on April 10 and omitted any reference to the budget paralysis.

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