The Honorable Casper R. Taylor, Jr.
Speaker of the House
State House
Annapolis MD 21401

Dear Mr. Speaker:

In accordance with Article II, Section 17 of the Maryland Constitution, I have today vetoed House Bill 937 - Education - Public School Facilities.

As introduced, House Bill 937 would have increased the State share of school construction funds for any school in which more than 50% of the students in the school are eligible for free and reduced price meals under federal law. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Michael E. Busch, was an effort to provide an incentive for local school systems to address the disparity in the condition of schools in poorer neighborhoods when compared with schools in wealthier neighborhoods at the local level. As amended and passed by the House of Delegates, the bill created a Task Force to Study Public School Facilities. The Task Force was charged to examine the issue that was raised in the bill as introduced, and other issues related to the State's public school construction program, including the continuation of the Aging Schools Program.

As amended by the Senate on the final weekend of the 2002 Session of the General Assembly, the bill created the Task Force and codified a formula for distributing funds under the Aging Schools Program, at the request of the Public School Construction Program. Prior to the inclusion of this formula in House Bill 937, funds for the Aging Schools Program had been distributed according to codified, specific dollar amounts for each local jurisdiction. The House concurred in the Senate amendments on sine die.

My decision to veto House Bill 937 is based on two concerns. The first is a concern for the impact of the formula on many jurisdictions, small and large, across the State. The second is rooted in the complex, contentious and practical history of K-12 education funding over the past 8 years. A brief historical review is helpful to understanding these concerns.

In most communities, and for most elected officials, a quality K-12 education system is the highest priority. Working together, we have increased the base budget for K-12 education by over $1.2 billion since I took office. Developing a consensus for increased education funding has never been a challenge. But beneath the surface of that consensus, there have always been competing ideas regarding how to allocate those increased dollars. The debate has centered on the role of sound management versus increased funding; the effectiveness of various programs and instructional methods; and the unique needs of local school systems in our diverse State. These competing interests have been clearly on display in every Session of the General Assembly since 1997. In every major education funding initiative since 1997, we have seen a similar pattern. Legislation is introduced to address a specific concern or problem. The legislation is amended (and funding is increased) to address issues that are important to elected officials, members of the education community and local school systems. In the end, the result is positive - increased funding for Maryland's children.

The Aging Schools Program was created in 1997 by Senate Bill 795 (Chapter 105 of the Acts of 1997). Senate Bill 795 was introduced to settle long-standing litigation between the State and various parties concerning the Baltimore City public school system. The settlement agreement, and the legislation, provided $230 million to the City schools over a 5-year period. This increased funding created a concern, and ultimately an opportunity, for other local subdivisions. In the course of the legislative process, Senate Bill 795 was amended to provide additional funds through existing and newly created programs for other subdivisions in Maryland. The programs that were chosen to receive an increase, the newly created programs and the amounts of additional funding were directly related to the unique needs of local school systems. All of the funding in the bill was scheduled to sunset after fiscal year 2002.

The Aging Schools Program was allocated $4.3 million by Chapter 105. The funds were distributed, by specific amount, to each local jurisdiction in the State. The basis for the distribution was the amount of pre-1960 square footage in each jurisdiction, as of April 1995. House Bill 937 establishes a formula relying on data that was updated in February 2002.

In 1998, the General Assembly enacted legislation to increase the academic performance of at-risk children and settle the Prince George's County Public School System desegregation litigation (Chapters 565 and 704 of the Acts of 1998). Again, the legislation created new programs, and enhanced existing programs, that were of interest to local jurisdictions. The School Accountability Funding for Excellence (SAFE) Program (Chapter 565) provided an additional $6 million for the Aging Schools Program. Again, this was accomplished by including specific allocations for each jurisdiction. As was the case with Chapter 105 of 1997, all funding in Chapter 565 of 1998 was to sunset after fiscal year 2002.

Legislation passed in the 1999 Session of the General Assembly created the Commission on Education Finance, Equity, and Excellence, which came to be known as the Thornton Commission. The Thornton Commission issued an interim report that contained several recommendations to be considered by the General Assembly during the 2001 Session. One of those recommendations was to continue the funding for the programs that were set to sunset after fiscal year 2002, including the Aging Schools Program, through fiscal year 2003. This recommendation was enacted as part of Senate Bill 719 (Chapter 420 of the Acts of 2001). This year, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 856 (Chapter 288 of the Acts of 2002), historic legislation that further implements the Thornton Commission's recommendations, which extends the Aging Schools Program through fiscal year 2004.

The extensive, yet brief, history of the Program leads to my decision to veto House Bill 937. First, local school systems have been planning to receive the specific allocations contained in the law for fiscal year 2003 since the 2001 Session. House Bill 937 significantly reduces the amount that some local jurisdictions will receive and completely eliminates funding for 3 jurisdictions (Charles, Dorchester and Somerset Counties). In all, 17 jurisdictions, small and large, wealthy and poor, would receive less money than anticipated. For example, Cecil County would receive approximately half of the $355,000 it was scheduled to receive; Wicomico County would receive $206,000 less than anticipated; Allegany County would lose $149,000; Baltimore County would lose $274,000; and Montgomery County would lose $914,000. I am concerned that, given the lateness of the request from the Public School Construction Program to codify a formula that would have a negative impact on some school systems, the change occurred without sufficient notice to the jurisdictions that the amounts they had planned to receive for the upcoming fiscal year would be reduced.

My second concern is based on the practical realities of how this Program was created. As outlined above, the Aging Schools Program is one of many programs that were enhanced or created to respond to unique, specific needs of jurisdictions across the State. While this may be an imperfect method of making funding decisions, jurisdictions to which this program is important supported programs of importance to other jurisdictions with the expectation that the funds would be provided at the levels that were specifically enacted into law. This was a reasonable expectation, given the creation of the Program in 1997, the enhancement of the Program in 1998 and the extension of the Program in 2001 and 2002 at the codified levels. While I understand the desire of proponents of House Bill 937 to update the Aging Schools Program data, the reduction of the amounts allocated through this Program now is understandably troubling to some jurisdictions.

Fortunately, the decision to veto House Bill 937 will have no impact on the Aging Schools Program. The Program is fully funded at $10.4 million in fiscal year 2003 and local school districts will receive their anticipated amounts. The Program will continue to exist in fiscal year 2004 because of the sunset extension in Chapter 288 of 2002. Further, the veto will not jeopardize the work of a task force to examine school construction issues. Section 5 of Chapter 288 of 2002 creates a Task Force to Study Public School Facilities. Part of the charge to the Task Force is to consider whether the Aging Schools Program should be continued as a permanent program. The Task Force would be an appropriate forum to address the allocation issues raised in House Bill 937.

The Task Force language in Chapter 288 of 2002 is not exactly the same as the language used in House Bill 937. Most importantly, Chapter 288 of 2002 does not include a charge to the Task Force to examine the issue that was originally of concern to Delegate Busch, the sponsor of House Bill 937, and the bill's co-sponsor, Delegate David D. Rudolph - the allocation of school construction funding to schools with a significant population of children who are eligible for free and reduced price meals. In deference to the sponsors of House Bill 937, I respectfully request that the Task Force consider this issue and the other issues outlined in House Bill 937 as part of its work.

For the above reasons, I have vetoed House Bill 937.

Parris N. Glendening