Category Archives: Montgomery County Public Schools

Five Facts About MoCo School Construction Funding

By Adam Pagnucco.

School construction has been one of the hottest issues for years in Montgomery County.  Enrollment in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) has been increasing by close to 2,000 students a year for a decade with no sign of stabilizing.  The result is crowded schools throughout the county.

According to the Superintendent’s FY18 Recommended Capital Budget, 109 of MCPS’s 197 schools were over capacity in the 2016-2017 school year.  Of those, 35 had enrollments of at least 120% of their capacity.  Even if the Superintendent’s request is fully funded, by the 2022-2023 school year, 87 schools will be over capacity and 29 will be at least 120% capacity.  Overcrowding will continue because construction will not keep pace with enrollment, which is projected to grow by nearly 10,000 students over that period.  MCPS is using 388 relocatable classrooms this year, a number that has not changed much over the last five years despite significant spending on school construction.

Over 80 percent of MCPS school construction costs are paid by county taxpayers with the remainder coming from state aid.  Here are five facts about school construction that all MoCo residents should know.

  1. MCPS enrollment is growing faster than the rest of the state COMBINED.

According to the Maryland State Department of Education, September enrollment in MCPS grew by 15,036 students between 2005 and 2014.  Over that period, public school enrollment in the rest of Maryland SHRANK by 543 students.  MCPS’s absolute increase and its growth rate (11%) were both first in the state.  Other systems are growing too (notably Howard and Anne Arundel) and all counties have maintenance requirements.  But in terms of new capacity needs, MCPS is in a category of one.

  1. MoCo gets less school construction money from the state per student than all but a handful of other counties.

Over the five-year FY13-17 period, MoCo received $201.7 million in state aid for school construction, just ahead of Baltimore County and tops in the state.  That’s a substantial amount of money.  But relative to its September 2014 enrollment, MoCo’s construction aid per student ($1,306) ranked 18th of 24 jurisdictions.  MoCo had 18% of the state’s public school students but received just 13% of state construction dollars, the biggest gap in the state.

  1. The state’s funding formula discriminates against school construction in MoCo.

The state finances a percentage of eligible costs for school construction projects approved for state aid with the local jurisdiction paying the rest.  MoCo is one of seven jurisdictions for which the state covers 50% of funding for school projects approved by the Board of Public Works, the lowest rate available.  Other jurisdictions including Prince George’s (63%) and Baltimore City (93%) receive much higher cost splits.

  1. State legislators from the City of Baltimore extracted a billion dollars from the state for their school construction program.

In 2013, Governor Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly’s presiding officers made passing a revenue increase for transportation a high priority.  Despite the fact that one of the projects to be funded was Baltimore’s $2.9 billion light-rail Red Line, city legislators withheld their votes until they got more money to rebuild their aging schools.  (City school enrollment fell between 2005 and 2014.)  The result was a new seven-year billion-dollar state aid program for city schools that greased the wheels for the transportation funding hike.  The city delegation’s work shows that significant progress can be made on this issue.

  1. MoCo residents are now paying a new tax hike in part to fund school construction.

Last May, the Montgomery County Council approved a recordation tax increase on home sales projected to raise $196 million over six years.  The council justified the tax hike on the grounds that $125 million of the money was supposed to be spent on school construction.  No recent media reports indicate that any other Maryland county has raised local taxes for the explicit purpose of financing school construction.

Disclosure: Your author’s son attends Flora Singer Elementary School in Silver Spring.  Despite opening just four years ago to relieve overcrowding at nearby Oakland Terrace, the school is already over capacity.

Addressing the Achievement Gap

The achievement gap between White and Asian students compared to their Latino and African-American counterparts has received increasing public attention. The County has a real interest in making sure all students perform well–not just because it’s right but also to assure that the County remains economically competitive. That’s not going to happen with an unskilled workforce.

Today, I thought I’d take a look at some of what Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is already doing as part of its effort to make sure all kids have the skills to succeed. This is the first in what I hope will be an occasional series on public education. My thanks to Andrew Zuckerman, the Chief Operating Officer of MCPS, for providing so much of the information included here.

Choices in how we use our resources make a statement about what we value as a community. Traditionally, Montgomery County has been very supportive of MCPS, which accounts for roughly 50% of the County budget.

Impressively, despite enormous pressures due to tough economic times, the County has largely maintained that commitment. However, increases in the student population have nonetheless forced reductions in spending per pupil. The following graph shows the County contribution per pupil:

MCPS Spending per PupilSource: MCPS

This one reveals the total spending per pupil with state aid:

MCPS total spending per pupilSource: MCPS

Accordingly, it become all the more important that we use the money we have wisely, as is hardly a secret at MCPS. An examination of how MCPS directs it resources reveals that it is spending significantly more in those schools with more disadvantaged students.

The following graph reveals the teaching and staffing allocation to three different types of schools with similar numbers of students:

MCPS teacherSource: MCPS

To help disentangle the argot, Title I schools have high percentages of low-income families and qualify for federal assistance via the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. In this Title I school, over one-half speak English as a second language and 82% receive free or reduced price lunches.

Focus schools receive extra attention from MCPS despite not meeting threshold for Title I schools. Eighteen percent of students in this Focus school speak English as a second language and 50% receive free or reduced price lunches.

Low FARM schools have few students receiving free or reduced price meals (read: more affluent). In the low FARM school in the example, just 6% receive free or reduced price meals and 6% speak English as a second language.

As the graph reveals, Title I schools have 59 teachers and staff members while Focus schools have 51. In contrast, the low FARM school has 39.5. The difference is due overwhelmingly to the allocation of additional teachers to Title I and Focus schools.

So even as we continue to discuss additional ways to close the achievement gap so that all students are performing as high as possible, we need to acknowledge that MCPS has directed meaningful resources towards this problem. That doesn’t mean it’s solved, doesn’t merit significant attention, or we don’t need to attack the problem in a variety of ways, but it also means that MCPS is taking real actions to address it and the gap in opportunity between more and less affluent areas of the County.