Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Keep up the effort.

Maintenance of Effort is a good thing.  Oh wait, no, Maintenance of Effort is a bad thing.  On the other hand, just what is Maintenance of Effort?
 MOE as it is often called is a requirement of state and federal law that school districts maintain the local contributions to education regardless of any additional income from state or federal grants.   So if a local district contributed 10 million dollars to education in FY 14 it must continue to contribute that amount at a minimum, even if the district gets a windfall of 20 million from state, federal or private sources.  The point of MOE is to ensure that local districts do not reduce their local share of education in the good times so that when the bad times come, as they almost always do, there will be money in the local budget to ensure minimum resources for education.  Most education advocates think this requirement is a great idea.  Some local school districts are very unhappy.  Let’s look at each side of the argument.

Pros:  Prior to the Maintenance of Effort requirement, local funding for education went up and down according to the availability of outside funds.  As in the grasshopper story, there were lean years and fat years.  Education advocates wanted to make sure that the local district maintained baseline funding for education regardless of the outside funding sources.  The system has worked rather well and it has forced school systems to be prudent in using additional funds for the basic programs.  There have been instances when districts have not sustained local funding and have received consequences from the state board of education.  Recently Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland tried to go below the maintenance of effort funding level and were called on the practice by the State Board of Ed.  Montgomery County Schools countered that the overall money for education was greater than the previous year.

Good idea right?  Not so fast.  And therein is part of the issue.  Regulatory agencies are fairly strict in enforcing MOE.  School districts are saying that they can’t try out new programs with local money because that automatically raises the threshold for MOE for that school year and for future years.  These school systems say that MOE thwarts creativity in programing.   If the new program does not work out, the school district must still keep the cost of that program in the budget.  School districts want some flexibility in what counts as MOE.   Education advocates say they have been burned before and don’t trust these waivers.

What is the answer?   It is true that without MOE local funds for education were regularly replaced by state, federal and other outside funds and then when the outside funds were reduced, so were local ed programs.   On the other hand, do the strict MOE requirements stifle any creativity?  Be careful what you wish for.

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