Education leaders offer plan to fix school funding law

State education leaders have offered legislators their recommendations for fixing the state law that requires local governments to fund their public schools at a minimum level.

The state's superintendents, teachers union and local school boards released a plan Tuesday that would tighten a law meant to require that counties fund their schools at the minimum per pupil amount that they did the year before. The law was weakened last legislative session, they say, and must be fixed.

They want to ensure that governments do not decrease the money they spend on schools. Among the changes they propose is an annual cost of living increase so that the minimum local contributions to schools do not stay the same for many years.

In addition, education leaders want to prohibit governments from counting in their minimum school funding the interest a county pays on construction projects, which is what Anne Arundel County currently does.

In addition, they want the penalty for not complying with the requirement to be assessed on the county government's budget and not the school system budget.

Seven county governments are failing to fund their schools this year at the minimum per-pupil amount and Gov. Martin O'Malley and legislative leaders have said they favor tightening the law this year.

The state says preliminary budget figures show that Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Dorchester, Kent, Talbot, Wicomico and Queen Anne's counties have dropped their per-pupil funding this year to less than the year before.

Education advocates and state leaders say that school funding cuts will undermine progress at public schools that have been repeatedly ranked as the nation's best. Class sizes are rising, teachers are not getting the support they need, and school buildings are not being well maintained, interim state school Superintendent Bernard J. Sadusky has said.