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Letís not handcuff Maryland budget for years to come

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

Posted on February 18, 2004:

Senator Dyson In this year's General Assembly Session, I plan to introduce a bill that would give counties the option to opt out of the mandate in the Thornton education bill passed in 2002 to provide all-day kindergarten.

Counties such as Calvert have their commissioners and school board on record as saying they will not comply with the mandate for a myriad or reasons.

While there are theoretical merits to all-day kindergarten, it is not economically feasible at this time. In fact, in addition to being an unfunded mandate, it is under funded as well. It will, by all means, handcuff the entire Maryland budget for years to come.

I voted against the entire Thornton plan for several reasons, chiefly because we had no way to pay for it. It was a feel-good, pie-in-the sky piece of legislation that made a lot of promises to a lot of people except one: How were we going to fund it?

To stop this train from rolling completely out of control, we should start with the all-day kindergarten mandate. It calls for major capital and annual operating expenditures that we just canít afford in a shaky economy that we have now or even in a strong, thriving economy that seems to be coming back.

Already, local governments in Southern Maryland budget about 50 percent of their money toward education -- education system that are one of the best, if not the best in Maryland.

The Thornton measure, which was voted against by virtually every member of the Southern Maryland Delegation in 2002, was not a good deal for Charles, Calvert or St. Maryís counties to begin with. It disproportionately gave more money to Baltimore City, Prince Georgeís and Montgomery County which got a better arrangement simply because they have more representation in the General Assembly. For the headaches Thornton is already costing us, such as what to do with the all-day kindergarten mandate, what Southern Maryland is slated to be getting is not worth the price of admission. A survey conducted by the Maryland Association of Counties from 2000-2002 reported that all-day kindergarten capital costs for Charles County will be $8.7 million while annual operating costs will be $3.5 million. In St. Maryís, these costs were nearly as staggering. These are pretty staggering numbers considering there is no absolute proof that all-day kindergarten would be a major educational improvement to our students.

For instance it was reported recently that Howard County is preparing to spend $12 million for 87 modular classrooms. Who wants to send their four or five-year old to school in a trailer?

Iím not sure that our already struggling local governments can afford the initial estimates, much less what is surely to be even more cost overruns. How many capital projects come in exactly as they are estimated?

To accommodate the additional kindergarten programs, local school systems will have to construct additional classrooms. The cost to construct an additional classroom totals approximately $180,000. This cost could be lower if local school systems purchase or use portable classrooms. Based on the survey conducted by the Maryland Association of Counties, additional capital and operating costs to implement full-day kindergarten programs at 12 local school systems was estimated to be nearly $160 million. I expect that estimate to grow higher when an updated survey is released in late January 2004.

Giving counties the option, not the mandate, to not proceed with all day kindergarten is a good step in that direction.

[ Return To Senator Roy Dyson's Newsletter ]

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