May 16--CUMBERLAND -- A bill that will aid Garrett County Public Schools and other school systems hit hard by the state school funding formula due to declining enrollments has been signed into law by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
The new law will supplement state funding by adding $464,103 for the coming year. The cash-strapped school system has been forced to consider school closures in the past few years.
"This should be very helpful to the school system and we are still waiting for the legislation introduced by both Del. (Wendell) Beitzel and I to pass that would help the county out financially until the wealth study is completed," Sen. George Edwards has said. Edwards was the Senate sponsor of the bill.
A study of the wealth formula is planned to begin in the fall of 2014 and is slated to be complete in 2016. The existing state funding formula can hit school districts with declining student populations hard. The bill applies to the whole state, not just Garrett County.
"At the rate we have been impacted by the wealth formula ... any help we can get from the state is appreciated," said Janet Wilson, Garrett County superintendent of schools. The money will help the system move forward and restore some services that have been lost, she said.
The bill mandates the state to supplement shortfalls in the state aid formula. "For fiscal years 2015 through 2017, if a county board's total direct education aid in the current fiscal year is less than the prior fiscal year, then the state shall provide a grant to the county board equal to 50 percent of the decrease in total direct education aid from the prior fiscal year to the current fiscal year," according to the language of SB 534.
The state budget provides $1.7 million in aid for affected districts in fiscal 2015, according to a floor report on the bill by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
"Under current law, direct education aid (as defined by the bill) in fiscal 2015 to Garrett and Kent counties will decrease by $928,200 (4.7 percent) and $262,000 (3.0 percent), respectively, a combined decrease of $1,190,200," according to the Department of Legislative Services.
Garrett County has lost about 18.5 percent of its budget in the last four years due in part to a decline in student enrollment.
Allegany County has lost almost $12 million in state funding since 2009, which is 15 percent of the board's budget, county school officials said.
O'Malley signed the bill on Thursday during the last bill signing for legislation passed in the 2014 General Assembly session.
Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at email@example.com.
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