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Despite enrollment drop, Baltimore County Schools report massive spike in free meals, ESOL students

More free meals coming for BCPS students
Posted at 2:51 PM, Mar 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-05 14:53:51-05

TOWSON, Md. — Baltimore County's School Board has approved it's budget for fiscal year 2025.

The $2.58 billion budget, comes in at just 0.04 percent less than last fiscal year.

Made up of various different funds, the passed budget includes a $42.3 million increase to the system's general fund equating to about two percent.

Some of that comes from the state's Blue Print education law.

While no cuts will come from the general fund, the special revenue fund will decrease by $68.8 million or 28.6 percent leaving $171.3 million for spending.

Magnet schools will be impacted with a $500,000 per pupil reduction.

One major reason for the cuts is shrinking enrollment.

The school system has experienced a reduction of 4,754 since September 2019, including 799 in 2023 alone.

Although enrollment remains down, the number of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals now sits at 74.1 percent. That's nearly a 30 percent increase since fiscal year 2020.

Meanwhile students in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program has grown by a drastic 262 percent between now and fiscal year 2010, including 1,128 just last year.

To accommodate the influx, the new budget makes room for 35 new ESOL staffing positions at a cost of $2.9 million.

As ESOL numbers continue to go up, the special education population is going down.

From fiscal years 2020 to 2022, special education enrollment dropped by 1,157 students. After a rebound in fiscal year 2023, another drop of 276 occurred last fiscal year.

Despite the downward trend, the budget reserves $7.2 million for 66.0 additional individual education plan chairpersons, as well as $2.2 million for 35 more special education teachers.

Another budgetary goal is to adjust teacher to student ratios, lowering class sizes in Grades 3-5. Still the budget plans to move teachers around to meet those needs while still allowing for cuts to staffing where necessary.

Other priorities addressed in the budget is full-day pre-K programs for children 0 to 4-years of age.

The budget includes funding for four early childcare and education Centers (Hawthorne Elementary School, Bedford Elementary School community and Featherbed Lane and Sandalwood elementary schools).

Finally the budget makes room for new infrastructure and improvements.

The new Northeast area middle school and the renovated Bedford Elementary School will be opening in Fall 2024 and 35 positions ($3.0 million) are included in the proposed budget to provide incremental staffing for each school. That money will also cover additional staffing for Red House Run Elementary School and Summit Park Elementary School, which opened in January 2024. The Watershed Public Charter School will receive 4.0 positions and $510 thousand to expand to seventh grade.

The full budget can be read here.