LANHAM — Rushern L. Baker III, the Democratic nominee for Prince George’s county executive, said Wednesday that former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s proposed education funding cuts are “something we will not stand for,” a sentiment echoed by Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett in a news conference at Seabrook Elementary School.
Ehrlich, the Republican who is trying to reclaim the governor’s office that he lost nearly four years ago, recently said he would not fund the Geographic Cost of Education Index, which was created to supply money to areas with high education costs. Ehrlich offered the funds that would be gained from this cut as a way to partially offset revenue lost from his proposed tax cuts.
Various school systems across the state received about $126 million in geographic index funds in fiscal 2011.
The index is a non-mandatory element of the Thornton education legislation, and went unfunded while Ehrlich was governor. Ehrlich recently said the index was developed only to aid the legislation’s passage.
Gov. Martin O’Malley has fully funded the index for the last two fiscal years using federal stimulus money. He partially funded it in fiscal 2009 and did not fund it in fiscal 2008.
Baker emphasized the importance of enlightening voters on the impact that such cuts would have on the affected school systems.
“I know that we cannot accept this,” Leggett said. “I know that it will have a devastating impact on the children, on the quality of education in Montgomery County and throughout the state of Maryland.”
William R. Hite Jr., superintendent of Prince George’s County Public Schools, described measures his county has taken due to budget constraints, even with the index funds. Some recent actions included furloughing school employees, increasing class sizes and layoffs.
Money received through the index also supports the county’s efforts to educate students who are English language-learners, have special education needs or live in poverty.
“A hit of another $39 million would be devastating to us because naturally then we would have to begin cutting some pretty critical resources and more staff,” Hite said.
Montgomery County would lose more than $30 million a year if Ehrlich’s proposed cut were approved. Leggett said class sizes could increase and the county’s efforts to retain teachers and administrators in light of its current budget shortfall could suffer.
He also said Montgomery County has made cuts similar to the ones in Prince George’s County.
Ehrlich countered criticism in a press release, saying he increased state funding for public schools more than any other Maryland governor. The release cited a 41 percent increase for Montgomery County public school funding and a 46 percent increase for Prince George’s County public school funding during Ehrlich’s term.
Yet Patricia O’Neill, president of the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, said she does not think Ehrlich understands the challenges the county faces, including rising enrollment, more English language-learning students joining the student body, and school construction needs.
“I’m deeply troubled for the children of Maryland,” O’Neill said.