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Needs Increase While Enrollment Drops In Baltimore County Schools

John Lee

The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams’ proposed $1.77 billion budget that goes before a public hearing Tuesday.

For example, Williams said, more of the county’s students qualify for free and reduced-price meals because of the pandemic.

He said 53% of the county’s students are eligible for free and reduced- price meals, up from 44% last year. Since September, the school system distributed more than 1.7 million meals to families in need.

“The needs of our system continue to rise,” Williams told the school board when he presented the budget last week. “The pandemic has stretched resources to the breaking point, especially with regards to our most vulnerable populations.”

The data also shows the disparity in Baltimore County. All of the students at one elementary school qualify for the meals. At another school, only 3.3% qualify.

Williams said in recent years they have been seeing an increase in students who need additional help because they are learning English, in special education or homeless.

In addition, the school system saw a drop in enrollment of nearly 4,000 students in the past year to around 111,000, reversing yearly increases. That could cost the school system millions in government funding because enrollment is key in deciding how much money is spent on education.

The decline in enrollment mostly happened at the elementary schools.

“In person instruction is especially critical for our youngest and neediest learners,” Williams told the board.

The Baltimore County Public School system has been teaching virtually since mid-March.

Williams believes the decline in enrollment will be temporary.

In an email, school spokesman Charles Herndon said the decline in enrollment can be summed up in one word: Coronavirus.

“There wasn’t one grade level or part of the county or reason that drove the drop,” Herndon wrote. “Parents withdrew their students to homeschool them or transferred them to private or parochial schools, and we saw a lot fewer kindergarten students enrolling this year than anticipated.”

Herndon said the parents of some would-be kindergarten students applied for a waiver that under Maryland law allows them to delay their enrollment for one year.

Williams’ budget request is $14.8 million more than the current year’s spending plan.

The school board’s public hearing on the budget begins at 6:30 pm Tuesday and will be followed by a work session. The meeting can be watched virtually from the BCPS website. The window has closed to sign up to speak at the public hearing, but written comments can still be submitted at [email protected]

The school board is expected to pass the budget in early February. It then goes to County Executive Johnny Olszewski who will revise it before sending it to the County Council.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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