Munson’s fiscal judgment questioned in vote for bill
To the editor:
Senate Bill 239, which would increase the compulsory school attendance age from 15 to 16, then 17 years old, recently came up for a vote during this year’s legislative session. It passed the Senate, but died in the Ways and Means Committee on the House side.
In 2000, Washington County Public Schools had a dropout rate of 5.5 percent. In 2009, the dropout rate was 1.56 percent. In 2000, Maryland had an average dropout rate of 3.9 percent. In 2009, the dropout rate was 2.6 percent. The state’s “satisfactory standard” is 3.0 percent. The hiring of intervention specialists over the past decade was credited with much of Washington County’s success in lowering the dropout rate.
Excerpts from the fiscal note for SB 239 state, “General fund expenditures increase by $48.8 million in (fiscal year) 2013 if funding is provided in the State budget to increase the age of compulsory attendance to 16. … In (fiscal year) 2015, general fund expenditures increase by an estimated $122.1 million.”
In a March 3 letter to Del. Sheila Hixson, chairwoman of the House Ways and Means Committee, state Schools Superintendent Nancy Grasmick referred to the findings of a task force that was formed during the 2006 General Assembly session. The task force found that a policy change could require a child to be enrolled in school, but could not make them attend, learn or otherwise be compliant. Grasmick’s letter went on to further outline concerns with the legislation and funding to implement its provisions.
All this begs the question: Why did state Sen. Donald F. Munson vote for SB 239? It was a flawed and expensive bill – one that our state, which has a significant budget deficit, cannot afford. The state, and Washington County in particular, have been successful in reducing the dropout rate over the past decade without increasing the compulsory attendance age.
Thankfully, the House Ways and Means Committee, of which Del. Christopher B. Shank is a member, did not allow House Bill 723 (the House version of this bill) to pass out of committee. Shank voiced strong opposition to HB 723, taking into consideration Grasmick’s letter of concern.
SB239 was “feel-good” legislation that didn’t do much except spend money our state does not have. Munson should have known better than to vote for SB 239. It calls into question his fiscal judgment.