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School Funding Lies On The Md. Budget Chopping Block

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This week, government agencies in Montgomery County will finish their budget proposals and send them to the county council, which makes the final call on what gets funded and what doesn't. County schools take up the largest share of the budget, and a state law requires the county to spend more on education each succeeding year.

It's called "maintenance of effort", and county council president Valerie Ervin says given the state of the economy, it's a financial handcuff right now.

"It requires the board of education to propose a school budget that is $83 million or nearly 6 percent above the $1.4 billion above what the county has provided this year. Even though we face another huge budget gap," Ervin says.

This fiscal year, the county received a waiver so that it didn't have to follow the law. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley is intimating a similar move may happen next year as well.

"If it's not feasible for the counties, it's not feasible for the state either," O'Malley says. "I mean if the argument is that the economy doesn't allow the counties to continue to fund at a maintenance of effort level. Then that argument, logically anyway, would also hold sway where the state's concerned."

But O'Malley does not want to see permanent changes to the law, saying the economy will rebound at some point in the next decade, allowing counties to again fulfill the law's obligatigations.

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