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Counties that violate maintenance of effort may currently request a hardship waiver that, if granted, absolves them of the penalty.

However, they must still come back the next year and match the previous funding level that was deemed too high to reach, essentially putting them right back where they started.

Looking for long-term relief from the MOE requirement, several counties have found an effective loophole by slashing education funding and simply not requesting a waiver. The counties take a one-time hit in state funding, but are then allowed to reset their allowable future minimum at that year’s lower level.

Last year, Montgomery County was one of seven counties that missed its requirement, funding education at $127 million below the MOE minimum. The county faces a potential $26.2 million penalty this year from the state — a small price, officials say, for the hundreds of millions they could save by funding schools at a lower level in future years.

The new MOE law would close the loophole, requiring violating counties to meet the higher minimum that they had sought to avoid.

However, it would allow waivers or reductions for some counties that have long-term economic difficulties or have frequently exceeded MOE in the past.

Mr. Sanderson said counties are “on red alert” and have turned much their lobbying effort toward the House, even though lawmakers there are considering a similar proposal to strengthen maintenance of effort.

“The money isn’t there, and holding us to that standard is unreasonable,” he said. “What I think it’s going to do is tell counties: ‘Don’t put more money into your schools than you have to, because you’re never going to get out of that commitment.”