Senate approves GCEI cuts
The state Senate today approved cutting the geographic cost of education index -- or GCEI, the component of Thornton that gives more money to school districts where the cost of educating students is higher. The governor's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, as well as the version of the budget passed by the House of Delegates, funds GCEI at 100 percent. The Senate's version funds it at only 60 percent, with the remaining 40 percent going to plug a hole in school construction funding. For Baltimore, it would mean an $8.7 million loss. Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties would also take significant hits.
The Senate is now debating further cuts to education for fiscal years 2011 and 2012 by continuing the cap on inflation that was supposed to lift next year and reducing something known as the "supplemental grant." These cuts would leave the city schools with annual shortfalls of at least $50 million for each of those years. Since the central office has already been slashed for this academic year and next, schools would see the impact directly. Why is it necessary to cut for future years now? Could it be that legislators want to avoid cutting schools next year, in an election year, so they're doing it now as a pre-emptive move?
It's worth noting again that these changes, as well as the GCEI funding reduction, were introduced late Friday night by the Senate's budget and tax committee when no one was watching. The two senators from Baltimore on the budget and tax committee, Nathaniel McFadden (chair of the city delegation and a school system employee) and Verna Jones, voted for the proposal. The reason no one was watching was because it was assumed that the committee would adopt its subcommittee's recommendations on education, but it did not.
Once the Senate's vote is complete, the budget will go to a conference committee with the House.
I just spoke with Dr. Alonso about the Senate's GCEI cut. "These are dollars that were intended to be used in recognition of the difficulty of certain districts in serving the children," he said. "It's part of Thornton, and it's wrong to take away from certain districts... It's wrong to take away from needy children."
Alonso said an $8.7 million loss would limit his plans to expand vocational education and reduce the scope of planned expansion of pre-kindergarten. "In a district where so many things need to be done, that is a tragedy and a missed opportunity," he said.
While legislators are saying that schools will make up the funding loss with stimulus money, the stimulus dollars come with strings attached. Alonso said he talked with U.S. education secretary Arne Duncan and "the stimulus dollars are meant to be used to change the character of education in this country. They're not meant to absolve local governments of their responsibility to adequately fund education." In addition, the biggest cut under the Senate proposal would come in fiscal year 2012, the year the stimulus money runs out.