Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Is a basic minimum a good idea?

We are not going to skimp on education!  Most citizens agree with that idea.  So a long time ago, Maryland passed a law that requires public school districts to never reduce the basic minimum spending for education.  The law was passed for a couple of reasons.
First of all it was the era of a good bit of both federal and State money being added to local budgets.  State legislators and the general public did not want this additional money to supplant the money that was being spent by the local system.  They wanted this new money to be indeed NEW money and not replace what was already being spent.
Another reason for the law was that there are good times and bad times in the economy.  The rule was supposed to make sure that even in bad times the kids would get the money to which they were entitled.
Generally people thought this was a very enlightened idea and a wonderful way to protect school funding.
But as with all good deeds there were unintended consequences.   Counties might want to increase spending for schools in times when revenues were high.  However, the catch is once expenditures are increased, those expenditures re-set the basic minimum.  So then school systems cannot go below these new amounts.
Critics say that the effects of the basic minimum limits the amount of new money school districts want to put into education since once raised they can’t go back.
Supporters say that inflation eats up those increases and even though there is more money in the budget, the purchasing power of the new money is about the same as the former lesser amounts.  Therefore, it is reasonable to set the new basic minimum commensurate with the increases in spending.
Every once in a while, a school district will ask for a bye on a new expenditure.  For example, during the recession, a school district reduced its contribution to health care for the staff.   Now that district wants to put some of that money back.  It has requested that the State Board of Education not count that money towards a new basic minimum expenditure.  At the present time the Board has not responded because it does not want to open a floodgate of more exception requests. 
Some districts have had no issue whatever with the basic minimums because the new teacher contract eats any deficits.
Still the argument rages.  Do required basic minimums act to deter innovation?  A school system spends money to innovate; the innovation fails, but the system is stuck with still spending that money on something else to sustain the new basic minimum.
Supporters of the law say it sustains local spending when state and federal grants go away.  Other public money leaving a lower local contribution without the safeguard would supplant local spending.  If the other money does go away, the local money remains intact.
Basic minimum spending- an enlightened idea to assure safeguards for children or another government rule that stifles innovation.

You decide.

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