A parochial dispute over whether Allegany County students may attend school in Hancock played out in a state legislative committee on Thursday.
It was the latest in a divisive battle in Allegany County, creating an unusual situation in which one member of a delegation testified against another member’s bill.
Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, is sponsoring a bill to let students go to a public secondary school in an adjacent county if they’d have to “travel greater than 30 miles” to get to the closest one in their county.
It’s a statewide bill, but aimed at ensuring students in Allegany County’s Little Orleans community can go to Hancock schools, as they have in recent years.
The Allegany County Board of Education has resisted the proposal, largely because of the loss of per-pupil state funding and the costs it would incur for out-of-county tuition and transportation.
Allegany County officials have said the school system is losing more than $5 million in state funding this year and needs to save money.
Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, argued that under state law it should be a decision for the school board, not the General Assembly.
An Allegany County District Court judge and the Maryland State Board of Education have upheld the local school board’s decision on ending the Hancock school arrangement.
The Public School Superintendents’ Association of Maryland and school systems in Garrett and Harford counties oppose the bill. Washington County hasn’t taken an official position.
According to a Department of Legislative Services analysis of the bill, Allegany and Washington counties had an agreement for more than a decade for Little Orleans students to go to school in Hancock.
Allegany officials decided in 2011 to let about 17 high-school students finish their school careers in Hancock, but made about 24 middle-schoolers return to Allegany County.
Del. Kathryn L. Afzali, R-Frederick, figured that it would cost about $120,000 in educational costs, plus transportation, to let the arrangement continue.
“This is not a huge amount of money,” she said. “Couldn’t that money come from another source?”
Jared Hose of Little Orleans, an eighth-grader, told the House Ways and Means Committee that it would cost his parents at least $8,000 to send him and his brother to Hancock schools next year, since Allegany County won’t cover the cost, “and I don’t think they can.”
“You can’t put a price tag on the emotional toll this is taking on our family,” he said.
Other points of debate during the hearing were whether a school farther away prevents students from taking part in after-school activities, and whether the longer day and commute hurt academic performance.
Myers might have guaranteed an initial victory in the bill by getting almost every Ways and Means Committee member to sign on as a co-sponsor. But the bill still would have to pass the full House of Delegates, as well as the Senate.